Gone in a Flash. Plug is pulled on Edinburgh press and picture agency

I love competition. There’s the thrill of a challenge; of pitting mettle and skills against a worthy rival; the buzz of being tested on a regular basis. And best of all, the kick of winning.

Yet, no-one wins all the time. When you come to accept that, it becomes the best spur to change, adapt and embrace developments that will help you improve and compete more effectively next time.

So, in my view, healthy competition is a good thing and helps engender improvement and excellence. Yesterday, however, I was given a harsh reminder that compeition also has a dark side.

A heated debate has been raging among members of the National Association of Press Agenices (NAPA) – a body set up to represent the interests of news and picture agencies. For those who don’t know, press agencies are businesses – of all sizes – which supply stories, pictures, film footage and other content to newspapers, magazines, TV and radio news channels and websites.

NAPA has a code of conduct, holds an annual meeting in London every year and is a typical trade body fighting for the best interest of all its members. However the organistion is currently riven by a deep internal division. A new applicant for membership has been opposed by two existing (and influential) members on the grounds that it is a direct rival. I say, so what? Keep the competition to the field of play – and have a trade body to represent those shared interests which exist, regardless of any business rivalry.

But what is clear is this: competition also brings out many less laudable qualities: pettiness, greed, jealousy, self-protectionism and fear of change or challenge to name a few.

The two protesting agencies have now threatened to resign if their rival is allowed in. There is now way NAPA – if it wants to be perceived as a principled and professional organiasation – should have a gun held to its head in this way. Sadly, though, it looks as though the act of brinkmanship (or toys being flung from the pram, depending on how you look at it) will be enough to carry a vote. The probability is that enough members will favour keeping two existing agencies, rather than welcoming the new.

When I set up Deadline Press & Picture Agency in 2000 there were four separate agencies based in Edinburgh. Our main rival in the intervening years has always been Newsflash. As part of the NAPA debate I was quick to point out the fact that we’re both members, despite the fierce rivalry between us. It was probably the first time I’d looked quite so positively on the long-running battle with Newsflash.

So the irony wasn’t lost on me just an hour later, when I got the first of several messages informing me the Flash had folded. Just like that. Suddenly Newsflash is no more. As far as I understand its Edinburgh office will be closed (as its Stirling office was several years ago) and its staff will have to find new jobs. Founder Frank Gilbride will apparently focus his news activities solely on his press agency based in Lanarkshire, Press Team. I won’t presume anything at this point, as who knows what plans Frank has? Certainly not me.

In the meantime though, it seems that Newsflash Edinburgh in an ex-agency. It’s passed on; it’ s no more; it’s ceased to be; its newsgathering processes are now history. And just like Monty Python’s parrot, when I heard the news I almost fell off my perch.

7 thoughts on “Gone in a Flash. Plug is pulled on Edinburgh press and picture agency

  1. What a way to treat loyal staff, some of who have worked at Newsflash for several years.

    One day they have a job and the next the rug is pulled from under them with no notice.

    Left with children to feed and mortgages to pay and no job.

    Wonder what the reason was for Newsflash closing – maybe the rising property prices in Edinburgh had something to do with it?

  2. The media being the gossipy industry it is, no doubt there will be stories and theories circulating for weeks to come.

    I’m told Jenny Morrison, who has been with Newsflash since it launched in the early 90s, was summoned into the office on her day off on Friday for a meeting with Frank, then left looking shellshocked. I also hear that, while she had concerns over the performance and direction of the business, closure came as a bolt from the blue.

    I’m also told that when other staff were broken the news at 3pm on Friday (after they’d put in a full working day) they asked about possible redundancy payments. The response was that there would be none – indeed they were told it is unlikely there is even enough money to pay outstanding expenses claims.

    Should that be the case, then you are right – it is not a great way to treat staff.

    I can’t see what possible role rising property prices could have had on this. I believe the Newsflash offices in Haymarket were rented. But even if they were on a mortgage costs could not have gone up enough to have brought about the collapse of a long-term business like Newsflash.

    However, I’m told Frank’s other business interests include a property portfolio, so perhaps he is being squeezed on that front, while also battling with fast-falling news incomes and has been forced to make a tough decision on purely financial grounds.

    It’s impossible to say from the outside. However, the good news for the likes of Jenny and long-standing photographer Callum is that people of their quality and reputation won’t want for work.

    I also hope the others affected (who I don’t know) find their feed quickly.

  3. I am really sorry to see Newsflash go the way it has, it was a great launch pad for some very talented photographers and journalists in Scotland, thinking of the likes of David Moir, Ian Munro, Sally Mclean, Andrea Vance, Gale Prentice etc etc.
    I for one an very grateful of the time I spent working for Frank who was a thoroughly decent bloke to work for, and its sad to see the smaller agencies going the way they are across the country.

  4. I agree Stuart. Generally the closure of an agency the size and duration of Newsflash is a pretty grim sign of the times.

    However, I don’t totally buy the explanation that the market suddenly got so tight and tricky that Frank saw no long term future in it. Sure, the going is tough at the moment, but there’s at least a medium term future in agencies, while the internet is sure to yield new and interesting opportunities.

    Nor do I believe for a single moment that finances at Newsflash got into such a parlous state that it would merit instant closure with due wages, expenses etc going unpaid.

    I also find it decidedly odd – nay, astonishing – that having somehow managed to keep the talented and well thought of Jenny Morrison for 15 years, Frank would suddenly pull the rug on her with no warning (and no severance pacakage).

    I was unsurprised to hear the Jenny is now setting up ostensibly on her own. However, I’ll be keeping an ear to the ground for any rumbles, rumours or reports of just how final the business split between Jenny and Frank really is.

    I’m also totally unconvinced by the timescales in this process. I’d hazard a guess that, despite the apparent suddeness this was a closure planned in advance.

    Frank has also made it clear he has other business interests/ideas and I know he’s be dabbling with PR. Which would suggest any new venture has a good chance of being media-related.

    All of which leaves an awaful lot of unanswered questions here. For instance:

    Why close a mature and establised business on an apparent whim, without giving at least a month’s notice to all concerned? Common sense says that everybody would then depart with all the basic legal niceties addressed – with due notice served and wages paid. You’d also hope they might have really put the effort in during that last month to put themselves in the shop window – and let the business finish on a financial high? Surely if Frank has ambitions for another business (whether media-related or not) it would be in his best interests to shut Newsflash according to the book (with the associated costs) to keep it as clean and hassle free as possible? Why leave himself open to legal action from rightly disgruntled former staff?

    Having established the Newsflash name and brand, why not offer to sell it to Jenny/Bart/Callum (or anyone else with an interest) as a going concern? Especially since closure was almost inevitably going to lead to Jenny setting up anyway. Even if Jenny or Bart (the obvious candidates) weren’t interested, there might even be other journalists, freelances or ex-Flashers with the stomach for buying a ready made and established business. Presumably even a modest fee would have been better than the big fat zero earned from this shut down?

    There’s a definite whiff that something’s not right here. A cynic might suggest it’s a particularly cost-effective and entirely unofficial restructuring of Newsflash.

    A month from now, I’d be totally underwhelmed to find that nothing has changed except the names – Bart will still be doing his thing in Lanarkshire, Jenny will still be doing her thing in Edinburgh. Meanwhile Frank is free to pursue whatever his new interests are without racking up a buch of pesky redundancy costs.

    Which is why I for one will be keeping a particularly interested eye on developments.

  5. Pingback: Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! More grapplings from Newsflash « Black and White and Read All Over

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