When David Montgomery left the London Daily Mirror in 1999, not many put their money on him becoming a European media baron. In a blizzard of deals, Montgomery quickly built in less than a decade an empire, Mecom, assembling 300 regional newspapers in five European countries, employing some 11,000 and generating revenues of GBP 1.2bn.
Montgomery quickly siphoned off all the bargains when he found that in mainland Europe, regional newspapers sell for slightly more than one times revenue; he also took advantage of the massive subscription lists to start hawking wine, holidays and financial services to its 1.4 million subscribers across Europe.
But it was his incongruous ideas about “new ways of working” that raised suspicion everywhere as he became the bête noire of politicians, irritated editors and concerned readers. After he acquired a newspaper in Germany, the editor splashed his picture upside down captioned “Nein”.
Setting his sight, Montgomery pompously announced he would usher in his own British model higher up the food chain as part of a newsroom revolution to help claim back revenue lost. His vision was brutal and close to what Murdoch did in Britain – out go decent salaries and editorial integrity as he rolls in cost cutting and profit boosting measures.
His innovative ways of keeping costs down have yet to produce commanding results as Monty fell foul of his repeated assertions that the traditional print media business model was now "economically bankrupt". He was forced to sell off some of his newspapers in Norway to Polaris Media to raise capital to face up to increased financial difficulties.
He kept however making headlines with his vision of newspapers of the future. A few years ago he proclaimed sub-editors in newsroom to be soon out of business. More recently he predicted that the days of Editors-in-chief were numbered to be replaced by content directors.
Last week, speaking at a meeting of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee at the UK Parliament, he went as far as to forecast that “much of the ‘human interface’ involved in local news publishing will disappear within four years.”
Having just acquired for his Local World group over 100 local papers from the UK’s Northcliffe regional group, he told MPs that the local news industry “cannot sustain a model from the middle ages”, he described as highly wasteful, “where a single journalist goes out on a single story, comes back and writes it up”. Journalists of the future, he said, would become “harvesters” of content. He may be fooling MPs but surely not readers who know the difference between real stories and harvested contents.