Make up your mind, DMGT

It’s been a dizzying week for Daily Mail and General Trust. Despite figures suggesting that its national operations are beginning to make a recovery (advertising revenues are up 13 per cent in the past three months), its regional arm is still struggling to find a way out of the fiscal doldrums.

Which is why there must be a few red faces at the company this morning. Back in May, Northcliffe Media – the regional arm of DMGT – blustered that the organisation would reach growth by the summer, going so far as to say it would take something “very major to blow us off course”. Needless to say, DMGT directors have cautiously backtracked from those optimistic claims.

“It is a bit disappointing – certainly around Christmas, if trends had continued, we should have moved into revenue growth by the spring or summer,” said Peter Williams, DMGT’s finance director. “It has remained stubbornly slightly negative.”

It just goes to prove that optimism is going to have to remain a scarce commodity amongst regional press outlets. DMGT set itself up for a fall. Now it seems that the company isn’t even able to reassure itself about what the future holds.

“We don’t know yet. I have no idea as we don’t have that visibility,” said Williams on when a recovery is likely. “Post the VAT increase, there is a lot more uncertainty on what might happen in the medium term. With austerity measures the unknown is spending impact.”

DMGT finds itself in an unenviable situation – enthuse that things are looking up, and hope the prediction comes true, or admit that you’re just as clueless as everyone else as to the medium term future of the regional press.

All the while, the 100-plus newspapers that operate under Northcliffe’s wing are left to quake nervously about what may be. If DMGT wants to encourage growth, it needs to avoid making itself sound like it’s joined everyone in the gloom of uncertainty, regardless of how refreshing it is to hear a director being honest.

The regional newspaper industry has inevitably got tougher times to come. With a rise in VAT looming, and local advertising and circulation rates continuing to fall, DMGT needs to balance caution and confidence if it is to survive. The blind leading the blind hardly sounds like a convincing step into the future, does it?

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