That EIU Report
By DONALD McLACHLAN
HAVING chided some managements (notably the Daily Telegraph) and praised others (notably the Sunday Times and the Daily Mirror newspapers), the research team of the Economist Intelligence Unit says in its report on the news- paper industry: 'The profit of a newspaper does not appear to be directly related to the quality of management.' Again, 'if the news- papers are divided into profitable and non- profitable groupings, it will not be found that all the profitable newspapers have better manage- ment than the non-profitable.' More simply: the highly praised management of the Mirror group cannot make the Sun pay, and the much-criticised Telegraph office not only produces the most suc- cessful quality daily but has caught up and over- taken the much-praised Sunday Times in the colour business, in circulation if not in advertis- ing revenue. Likewise, the undoubted success of the Daily Express seems little affected by a management structure judged unsound; and Sunday papers like the News of the World and the People, 'in financial terms the strongest group of all,' do not obviously owe their circulation and profitability to up-to-date management.
So, for the moment, let hounds be called off the scent laid by the Guardian; let us all take a rest and hear what the managements have to say about the inquiry which they and the unions commissioned at a cost of nearly £50,000. The general and sweeping charges made against management in anticipation of the report are not sustained by the text; and it emerges that what is called 'inefficiency' in one or two cases is nothing more than a deliberate decision to produce a good newspaper rather than make a smashing profit. Are we then to have the insuf- ferable experience of hearing Socialists tax newspaper proprietors with a careless attitude towards profits?
I am not an expert on modern management technique, but I suspect that its advocates some- times exaggerate its importance. In a large-scale concern like the Thomson organisation or the
International Publishing Corporation, manage- ment training, a structure through which talent can rise and spread, mechanised methods of cost control and large-scale market research are all possible and remunerative. To bring them into an office like the Telegraph or the Observer, or even Associated Newspapers, could be unduly expensive and time-wasting. On the other hand, the Browne Report makes a shrewd judgment when it says that editorial staffs should judge and control their costs in a managerial spirit. Every editor knows how much money can be wasted by the little exhibitionisms of Fleet Street : sending your own man to a conference which could be covered by agency, cabling what could be airmailed, or getting 'your own' picture (especially in sport). The report asks timidly, too timidly, whether all the fuss about last-minute news, with expensive edi- torial changes and replating after midnight, is really necessary.
And then there is staffing: at the Daily Express the editorial staff is 30 per cent larger than in any other daily newspaper; The Times has five times as many feature writers as the Guardian; the Telegraph has only four photo- graphers compared with thirty-eight on the Mirror, 'although there is very little difference in the number of photographs printed in the two publications.' It is not easy to blame manage- ment in offices where there is a healthy tradition that managers should not push editors around.
What, then, is the 'official verdict,' as the Daily Mirror called it in a front page that for once left out the normal girl picture or rich man story?
cannot put it better than Lord Devlin does in his introduction, written in response to the feeling that the industry should speak up for itself : 'For national newspapers as a whole greater efficiency and better productivity will not be enough.' In spite of increasing population, circulation of daily newspapers in the eight years to 1964 fell by 10 per cent and of Sunday news- papers by 23 per cent. The crisis is one of failing revenue, which management as a whole cannot change. 'There is very little that the in- dustry can do,' says the report, `to increase the total volume of advertising revenue available to the industry.'
Here, obviously, Mr Harold Wilson comes into the picture. His Government's policy is slowing down the growth rate of the economy. His ministers are considering a ban on tobacco advertising, and referring the promotional ex- penditure of detergent firms to the Prices and Incomes Board; and correcting the state of the labour market which has led to a huge new expenditure on the advertising of jobs. If half the newspaper industry is now operating at a loss, it is partly Whitehall's fault.
The managers were wise to agree to publica- tion of this report, for it does, on balance, strengthen their case against both government and unions. The latter, in very moderate lan- guage, are found inefficient, short-sighted, quarrelsome; 'the calibre of the trade union officials appears to be even more variable than that of the management.' The control of labour by the chapels, usurping the management's right to discipline and dismiss, is roundly attacked : 'It is wrong to think that any member of a union, provided only that he is paid up and sub- ject to re-election every three to twelve months at the wish of the chapel members, is equipped to manage a major department which may in itself be larger than many factories outside the industry.'
The training and apprenticeship systems are questioned : for example, the report asks, as I have often wondered, why a linotype operator needs six years' appreriticeship and two years as a journeyman to do a job which might be taught in a year; and why a reader of proofs serves six years as an assistant and three years in general printing before qualifying. These non- senses cannot be stopped by management. They can be changed only by public opinion within the unions; and that can be created and streng- thened only by reporting and criticism in the press which they man. There is the real diffi- culty, unique to this industry.