What is going on at the Blackmore Vale, our favourite magazine? (After the Horsington “Villager”, that is). It looks like an era of great local journalism is drawing to a close as the men in suits with the money take over.
Alarm bells rang when the BVM failed to produce hardly any theatre reviews – in fact there has been virtually no arts coverage in recent weeks. The Blog has scooped them on several stories, notably the Slades Hill appeal, and a review of Guys and Dolls in Yeovil.
The website is very chaotic (but seems to be improving), and the search function doesn’t work very well.
They have advertised for a new editor, to replace Fanny Charles, who retired after 23 years in August. Meanwhile the deputy editor (who is doing a pretty good job, considering) beavers away, not knowing if she is going to be replaced.
So what is going on?
It would appear to be a sad but familiar tale of money. Big Money. The BVM was originally set up by Alan and Ingrid Chalcraft in 1978. They were professional singers who had come to live in North Dorset and bought what was effectively a parish magazine that had been going for a few months. They created the magazine that became the bible of the area. When they sold it in the early 1990s, it was bought by Trinity, which in due course became Trinity Mirror, who then sold it to Northcliffe, owned by the Daily Mail. (Do keep up –Ed).
Now, in a complicated £52 million rationalisation deal, it is owned by a company called Local World, which owns over 110 regional titles and websites. Local World is in turn owned by the Daily Mail & General Trust, the Yattendon Group and Artefact Partners, a venture capital group headed by a man who used to work for Meryll Lynch. More on these later.
You would have thought that the BVM’s tradition of independent journalism would be safe with such illustrious owners. No way. They have promoted their advertising mangers to “Commercial Directors”, and given them responsibility for content and budgets. Simultaneously, Local World’s ruthless chief executive, David Montgomery was telling a parliamentary select committee that his ambition was “to abolish the human interface of journalism and replace it with ‘content harvesting’”. Whatever that means, it certainly spells fewer journalists and newsgatherers.
The likelihood is that the new editor will be answerable to the advertising department on content and coverage. Anathema to any journalist or editor. This could put the BVM on a par with tacky trade magazines which promise editorial coverage if you buy space.
We understand that over a third of the staff have left in the past six months, and that’s not counting freelancers. They have not been replaced. Bad news, as there are no jobs for journalists and sub-editors in this area, as the Western Gazette is also shrinking.
We imagine the BVM’s remaining journalists are highly demoralised, and sympathise with them. No doubt the content will suffer, becoming more sycophantic to advertisers and even less newsy.
If standards fall, no-one will read it, so there will be little point in advertising. End of story.
We would love to hear from someone at the BVM that we have got this wrong, but we doubt that we will. However, the door is open –Ed
More on the BVM’s owners: The major shareholder in the DMGT is Harmsworth Continuation Ltd, based offshore with all those lovely tax advantages. Nevertheless, Viscount Rothmere has a house at Ferne, near Shaftesbury. Yattendon is a private family company with huge interests, including a number of expensive marinas. Not much is known about Artefact Partners except that they have lots of money, and a branch in the Cayman Islands. Ahem. Nuff said..