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Observer Closure: An Inside Leak - Mark Hanson [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Mark Hanson

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Observer Closure: An Inside Leak [Aug. 5th, 2009|10:07 am]
Mark Hanson
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I'm a PR person by trade, so it's been rather unusual wearing my media blogging hat and interviewing my journalistic contacts at the Observer to try and cut through the noise on the 'Observer to close' story, but here's what I've got.

- Huge anger at the Obs being seen to pay the price for bad strategic decisions taking by Rusbridger et al. Particularly the £60m sunk into bespoke printing presses that no one else is able to share. This kind of capital investment is always a drag on resources for news groups, which is why they often choose to partner with or lease the facilities to a competitor group. Not so with the Guardian's unique Berlinner kit. It seems even more foolhardy from an organisation that feels its future is digital.

There's also a feeling that the Observer could've gone tabloid to trump the Independent on Sunday' plans and effectively take them out of the game.

- Hopes are resting on the shoulders of the main Observer champions on the Scott Trust board; Will Hutton, columnist and former editor, and Larry Elliott. They are in a minority but are formidable. Significantly, the Guardian and Observer chapels merged the week before last and both voted to fight to protect the Observer.

- However, management has been clever in its restructuring. Roger Alton, weakened politically over the paper's support for Iraq, was forced to leave and replaced by John Mulholland, an altogether different level of player. He has a solid reputation as a newspaper technician but his nickname is Dougal after the wide-eyed and compliant Father Ted character. The main authority now rests with the 'Pod Heads' i.e. those people running the subject areas that cover all editions and multi-media. They are appointed by Rusbridger and they are empowered to make cuts, which often involves making cuts to Observer output and staff.

The recently axed Simon Caulkin column and the TV guide received a flood of email protest (over 100 in the case of Caulkin) from readers but Mulholland felt powerless to act.

The speculation about the Observer closing has been knocking around for a few weeks now but has only just hit the mainstream media. It could be this is a strategic leak so that when a less nuclear option is announced everyone feels relieved. It feels likely that the Observer will continue but be subject to death by a thousand cuts.