Solly is jolly today – but Scottish Newspapers take note of the storm clouds ahead

Spurs fan Mark Solomons, the boss of a long-running and successful press agency in London has every reason to be cheerful today, after his team thrashed arch rivals Arsenal 5-1 last night.

Solly will be feeling the warm glow for days to come and I can’t help but feel envious. We press agency bosses take our cheer wherever we can find it these days, since the turmoil being felt in the news industry as a direct result of the internet is impacting directly – and extremely negatively – on our businesses.

The sense of gloom and worry  is deepening by the day and the closure of my own arch-rival, Newsflash, is at least partly related to the dwindling payments from the main newsapapers. Solly is also chairman of our UK-wide trade body, the National Association of Press Agencies (NAPA) and an old pal of Newsflash founder, Frank Gilbride. So when the Media Guardian asked for his views on the state of the industry, he was quick to let rip as you can read by clicking here, or on the link below

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jan/22/pressandpublishing1

The uninitiated – those outwith the newspaper-centric media world – still generally believe in chequebook journalism. For the most part they still think newspapers pay big money for stories and that much of that must trickle down to freelances and press agencies like Deadline Press & Pictures.

So I hope the revelation that the Daily Record pays £75 for a page lead will cure them of that misconception. Indeed, from my own Daily Record days I know the page lead rate was £80 in 1995. I don’t have the know-how to work out the real term reduction from £80 in 1995 to £75 in 2008.

But I don’t want to appear as thought I’m having a go at the Record. At least they pay regularly.

Over at the Daily ExpressDaily Star we are issuing reminders for payments we are due stretching back 19 months. Which means they have been totally ignored every time we have issued them during that time. It used to be the papers would rob us with terse explanations like “Not Found” or “Paid to other agency”.

However in these cases – covering hundreds of stories and pictures – the Express group have not even graced us with the courtesy of any reply whatsoever. Nineteen months worth of reminders has resulted in nothing, except us racking up staff hours, book-keeping costs and the price of stamps to add to the time and effort we expended providing them with material which was used but never paid for. Yes, it’s shameful.

All in all it is also very short-sighted view by those running the news and picture desks on these newspapers. I’m not clear who they are benefitting by failing to pay the agencies who supply words and pictures, except the shareholders and fat cats who own the media groups. The same people, in other words, who will be looking for job cuts within the papers to squeeze out further profit in a tough market.

By the time these guys realise that cheating agencies out of payments is really going to send those agencies to the wall, who is going to be left supplying news? The skeleton staff left on the papers? Yeah, right.

Sure, I don’t expect the journalists who sit on news and picture desks to wilfully burst the budgets they’ve been set and there’s only so much they can do. But likewise, in many cases, I still think of them as peers as colleagues so I hate the thought of them cutting my throat.

No-one is asking for anything other than the courtesy of basic fairness. If they can’t pay for our stuff, then they shouldn’t use it. At least then agencies would be able to concentrate on refining their businesses, rather than hopefully chasing ghost payments which the papers have no intention of honouring.

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3 thoughts on “Solly is jolly today – but Scottish Newspapers take note of the storm clouds ahead

  1. Isn’t there another argument or two? That you shouldn’t send them the material if you know they are unlikely to pay? Also, could it be that they are putting it through but the accounts departments in London are bouncing them?

    Not sticking up for them, just curious.

  2. Fair question Craig.
    There’s certainly an argument for not sending them stuff.
    However, bear in mind the potential customer base for press agencies is really limited to the main national newspaper titles. In Scotland those with meaningful budgets are the Reecord, Mirror, Sun, Star, Express and Mail – or six cusotmers.
    Yes, the broadsheets also take our copy and pictures.
    But The Scotsman, Herald and P&J pay extremely small amounts (so small in fact, that we don’t actually include them in our financial planning), the Times, Telegraph and Guardian pay well, but only very infrequently use our stuff meaning the total amounts are small and unpredictable.
    So let me put it this way:
    If, for the sake of argument, one of the “Big Six” titles used £3000 worth of our copy and pictures in a month, but only pay us £2000 – should I stop sending to them?
    Effectively, when margins are already extremely tight, I’d be cutting my nose of to spite my face. All agenices are in a similar boat and the papers know this.
    Could it be that the payments are being bounced in London?
    Nah. This problem begins and ends with the news/picture desks and how good their systems are.
    I’d love to write in detail about the sheer, archaic injustice of the newspaper payments system but it would reduce me to tears of frustration – and you to tears of boredom.
    Credit where it’s due though – in the past few years the Record, the Sun and the Mail have all made improvements to their sysetms. Unfortunately for everyone, now their processes are half decent, they’re all running out of money!

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