The phone is ringing red hot at the Press Gazette (PG), according to editor Ian Reeves.

Mr Reeves is the architect of an 11th hour plan to rescue the journalists' trade magazine from oblivion following the news that its current owners - ex-UK tabloid editor Piers Morgan and PR guru Matthew Freud - are to abandon it.

Mr Reeves used the front page of the latest issue of Press Gazette to describe his plan of setting up a trust fund made up of publisher investors that would effectively allow it to be owned by the industry it serves.

His phone may be ringing off the hook, but many media pundits have slammed the idea as unworkable.  Kim Fletcher in the MediaGuardian yesterday (30 October 2006) pointed out a few flaws in the plan, not least that the journalistic "family" is basically dysfunctional and very unlikely to unite around anything.

Stephen Glover in The Independent's Media Weekly also wrote yesterday that the idea is akin to "asking a collective of mafia mobsters to produce their own in-house publication. We would be told that crime was down, that the streets were sparkling clean, and that no one was ever asked to pay protection money."

A round up of industry viewpoints in last Sunday's Observer media section by James Robinson likewise offered little to encourage.

The Press Gazette's woes are long-standing. It has traditionally been the butt of criticism by its readers who must be the hardest to please of any trade publication. No design, no headline, no standfirst, no news angle, no typo, no grammatical error, no photograph, no caption is going to pass by without comment by those whose profession it is to care passionately about such things.

It was nearly knocked off its perch by a rival publication in the early 1990s from the Robert Maxwell stable (saved only by Maxwell falling off his yacht first). It has had seven different owners, all of whom have abandoned it either for its lack of profitability or for 'political reasons'. Its print sales have plummeted to around 5,000 and it is currently making a staggering annual loss of £500,000.

Its key asset, the British Press Awards, were boycotted this year by Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and the London Evening Standard, and the Telegraph Group, severely undermining their credibility. Worse still, some national newspaper groups are supporting a move to set up a rival, not-for-profit awards under the auspices of the London Press Club, which could kill that cash cow altogether.

But the rush by some of PG's competitors to claim its scalp may be both a little premature and unfounded. Kim Fletcher suggests that it has lost one of its main sources of revenue - recruitment advertising - to the MediaGuardian and (HTFP), which is owned by for four regional newspaper groups (Johnston Press, Newsquest, Northcliffe Newspapers and Trinity Mirror). HTFP more or less exclusively carries all of the four newspaper group's editorial recruitment advertising, creating a virtual cartel in the UK's regional and local press sector.

Yet I can never remember a time in my 20-year journalistic career when the PG was awash with job adverts. I do remember the few adverts it did have at the beginning of my career were mostly for regional and local newspapers; those have now mostly been lost to online sources - either to publishers' own web sites or the HTFP 'cartel'. But I do not believe this has amounted to a significant revenue loss; and, if it has, PG has been living with that loss for several years.

The rise of online jobs sites serving the journalism sector has actually resulted in more jobs being advertised, moving the labour market away from the tradition of 'word-of-mouth' recruitment. Sites like ours have helped to end 'closed-shop' practices such as this and effectively grown and made their own marketplace.

The drop in the PG's print sales would have made a much more significant dent in revenue; less dramatic for being mostly subscription-based rather than newsstand-sale based, but nonetheless insidious. Claims of far greater readership are largely a myth and very hard to sell to advertisers; my recollection of that single copy circulating any editorial department I ever worked in was that the first person who read it, immediately stole/dumped/recycled it.

But accompanying that decline has been a rapid increase in online readership, with the success of its publish-online-first strategy. This, of course, reflects the overall trend in publishing but is also a testimony both to the quality of its editorial and to the demand for this type of news.

Content-wise, the Press Gazette has never been better. You can tell that it has really rattled its competitors when you read statements like this: "The Guardian also covers moves within the industry with a speed that the Press Gazette cannot match." [Kim Fletcher, MediaGuardian]. The MediaGuardian does not even come close to the breadth of coverage that PG offers and, with the nascent talents of the likes of Colin Crummy and Martin Stabe (under the excellent editorship of Ian Reeves), it is more than able to compete with national newspaper media sections.

Of course, achieving that breadth of coverage is not cheap. I can only imagine what I, as the publisher, could achieve on with an effective annual subsidy of £500k. If PG has a future, it may well lie in concentrating on fewer areas and doing so exclusively online. With distribution methods such as RSS feeds, readers can then mix and match the journalism news they want, be it 'Hack-stuck-up-a-tree' parochial stories from, online journalism news from, in-depth features from the likes of the MediaGuardian, or sources from further afield.

The trust idea may be a good one, but not if the trustees are publishers. As other commentators have suggested, it will be like herding cats. It will also not be healthy for the industry to create another recruitment cartel, as Mr Reeves appears to be suggesting:

"Founding trustees would each provide a modest stake to fund the business for the first year, but would receive in return a discount entitlement for various Press Gazette services - including display and recruitment advertising and awards entry fees."

Many of the editors we speak to daily here at tell us they want to be free to choose where they advertise their vacancies, and as in many places as their budgets will allow. As one wrote to us today: "I think we should be advertising our vacancies on as many sites as possible to bring in a bigger and better pool of candidates." Many publishers rely on recruitment revenue from other sectors; it seems odd that they would want to encourage non-competitive practices in their own industry and to restrict their editors from making the best possible choice in their employees.

The trust proposal is a brave move by an undoubtedly talented editor, but perhaps not the smartest of business moves. Mr Reeves hardly makes a compelling commercial case when he talks of a business plan promising profit in year three (for a publication with a 40-year history!). His plan A seriously undermines his plan B of a straight buyout alternative, and is bound to have an adverse effect on the sale price.

As for trust, being owned by just one publisher with other titles is sufficient to undermine trust in your editorial independence in the eyes of a highly cynical readership, yet alone several. The irony is that the PG is probably more trustworthy under its present owners than it has been for a long time, despite the industry's alleged distaste for Piers Morgan and Matthew Freud.

If all goes as planned for the PG, will become the only independent editorial outlet covering the journalism industry in the UK, albeit focused mainly on online developments. We have had one owner since our inception since 1999, we are profitable, never had to borrow a penny and do not have to answer to shareholders. So if anyone deserves trust, it has to be us.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).