|An eye-catching MerseyAle cover|
- Major change to the content from the present emphasis on campaigning to a focus on social activities and sound bite news.
- A cut in the number of pages from 56 to around 24.
- Printing a much reduced number of copies (probably less than half the current 11,000 print run which attracts advertisers) with reduced print and paper quality.
- The style to be dumbed down to suit those who find anything more than 140 characters a challenge to read, with sound bite-style news which will date rapidly.
- The Branch Committee taking over the editorial control of the magazine and its content.
John has stated that there is no problem with funding, the magazine is popular with readers and advertisers (something I have observed myself), and there has been no pressure for change from any source. The decision about MerseyAle was made by the committee alone and excluded him, the magazine's editor, as well as everyone else in the branch. I'd have thought it would have been better to refer such a big decision to an all-members' meeting. After all, if you're certain you are doing the right thing, surely you'd have nothing to fear from a bit of democracy.
Storm in a teacup, you may say. Perhaps, but it is certainly significant locally. I find this quite a bizarre decision, and precisely the kind of thing you get from committees that are so often stronger on criticism than action. In support of this last point, I'd mention that at the Roscoe Head demo a few months ago, which was supported by many CAMRA members from across and beyond Merseyside alongside those from Liverpool branch, the Liverpool branch chair was conspicuous by her absence - even though this is a major campaign that has attracted national attention about a pub that is one of only five to have been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide.
I expect this committee will find that the constant commitment of producing a magazine, even in a reduced form, requires rather more effort and imagination than they envisage. Yes, the first few of issues will undoubtedly look different and be produced without too much trouble, but the relentless schedule will, in time, become wearing. What they probably see as a great revolutionary idea - taking control of the branch's mouthpiece - will become a burdensome chore. I'd hazard a guess that they will reach this stage about 3 to 5 issues in. They will then realise that sacking a committed editor because he exercised a certain degree of autonomy was a mistake: the long-term commitment of an editor doing the job for nothing requires autonomy to maintain his or her interest; it's different when an editor is paid because the salary provides the incentive. Everyone's an enthusiastic expert, until they have to get their finger out themselves.
So many CAMRA magazines across the country are interchangeable, and consequently quite uninteresting. Although I've had my occasional differences with MerseyAle, one thing you can say is that it has always been distinctive. I cannot see that being maintained by the new regime: committees and imagination rarely go hand in hand.
The first results of this decision are that there have been resignations, a lot of support for John from advertisers, and a lot of bemused or angry members. You simply do not treat volunteers in this way, unless you have an agenda: I strongly suspect that this is all part of an attempt to sweep away the old guard, some of whom have been active in the branch since the 70s, 80s and 90s, but even if I'm wrong, it is a disgraceful way to thank someone who has freely given so much time and effort for so many years to producing the magazine. If John had been paid as editor, he'd have an excellent case for unfair dismissal.
I expect it will all end up in tears. In the meantime, a good magazine, which has won awards, will be lost.