Sly Bailey isn't going quietly. Shortly before the chief executive of Trinity Mirror heads off to reflect on the massive value diminution at the publisher under her reign, she drops a major bombshell. The daily and Sunday Mirror are to merge their operations - a move clearly resisted by the current editors, Richard Wallace and Tina Weaver, who are leaving.
Two questions abound. Why do this? And will it work?
Why? Ignore all the comments about "meeting the needs of a multi-media publishing environment" and "a further step towards creating one of the most technologically advanced and operationally efficient newsrooms in Europe": this is a cost saving move. It is part of the inexorable trend for newspapers to try to produce more for less, driven by the fact that you and I are simply not paying as much for our media as we used to. We are buying fewer papers. Not paying a great deal for subscriptions. Getting our news from free sites and free papers.
Papers have not found a way of replacing the lost income. Advertising is not filling the hole. The newspapers' business models are broken. And for general interest papers, new business models that work have yet to be found.
Will the Mirror merger work? In the famous words of the editor in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop: "Up to a point, Lord Copper".
Having worked on newspapers for 20 years and seen various attempts at seven day newsrooms, I can say it can work in some areas. Foreign news is one (though there's not a lot of that in the Mirror). Sport can work if done carefully. Features tend to cannibalise themselves. Certain areas of the news output can be merged, though not without problems. But political news and business news (again not something the Mirror is big on) don't work.
Why not? The problem is that for a daily paper you rely on a steady flow of stories that happen at the time, augmented by the odd scoop. For a Sunday you don't have very much actually news, so the core product is scoops. If you are a Sunday paper reporter, and you get a great scoop on a Tuesday, you nurture it and protect it for the Sunday, hoping that no-one else gets it. If you are on a seven day paper, you get it out as soon as is practicable - i.e. Wednesday. As a result the cupboard can be bare when you get to Sunday (never mind Monday, when you will be feeding on the scraps from other papers).
This problem is exacerbated by online media. Now scoops can come out at any time of the day, and their exclusivity last a matter of minutes, even seconds. In fact for a media organisation, the economic value of a scoop can be extremely limited.
The problem is not so much seven day papers versus the daily/Sunday model. But actually what is the correct model for a paper in the digital world?
It's a tough nut to crack. And no-one yet has cracked it in a way that actually makes money. The Mirror move is understandable but flawed, because it is trying to answer the wrong question.
Jason Nisse is a director of Newgate Communications www.newgatepr.com