Concern over newspapers' decline in Wales

The Western Mail and Daily Post
Image caption The Western Mail is the only Welsh daily newspaper to be distributed around Wales

The circulation of every regional daily newspaper in Wales has fallen, with the country's flagship title the Western Mail dipping below the 30,000 mark.

The figures, which reveal the number of copies distributed on an average day for the first half of 2010, have led to concern about the future of the industry in Wales.

Media lecturer James Stewart said it was worrying for Welsh democracy.

The Western Mail said its circulation trend was "improving slightly".

Newspapers across the UK have seen the number of copies sold and read continuously fall over recent years.

The latest figures show that only one of the UK's 86 regional daily newspapers increased its sales year-on-year in the first half of 2010 - the DC Thomson-owned Dundee Evening Telegraph.

Of the Welsh titles, the Western Mail - the only daily that covers the whole of Wales - saw the biggest drop in circulation during the first half of 2010 compared with the same period last year, down 10.2%.

Its average daily circulation was 29,567.

The Daily Post, which covers north Wales, had the smallest year-on-year decline in circulation at -4.5%, with an average daily circulation figure higher than the Western Mail at 32,414.

The newspaper with the highest circulation figure was the South Wales Evening Post, which covers the Swansea area, with an average figure of 42,619.

James Stewart, who worked at the Western Mail and South Wales Echo in the late 1970s and early 80s and is now senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Glamorgan, said the figures were "sad and worrying".

He said when he worked at the Western Mail, its circulation figure was around 90,000, adding there were serious implications about its decline over the last 30 years.

"As we're coming up to a referendum next year on more powers for the Welsh assembly, how many people in Wales are watching Welsh news or reading papers that discuss these things? Most people are not," he said.

"In evidence given to the assembly's culture committee recently, which was looking into public service broadcasting, it emerged 90% of people in Wales read a paper that doesn't contain Welsh news.

"That's very worrying if you want an electorate who knows what's going on and is engaged in the democratic process."

Habits changing

He added: "What are their other sources of information? There's the BBC - but how many young people watch local news on television or listen to it on the radio? There have also been major questions about the news resources at ITV Wales."

Mr Stewart, who also previously worked at BBC Wales, said he believed that many young people did not read newspapers and were more likely to go online, while even the habits of traditional readers were changing.

"You have to ask what the difference was 30 years ago," he said.

"The number of journalists at the Western Mail has gone down. The quality of their journalism is still very good but they just haven't got the resources they used to have.

"It's sad but on the other hand, as someone now involved in education, it's interesting to look at where journalism will now go. How will people be informed? We have to look at how that will be done."

He added that it was too soon to say whether newspaper companies would be able to make their websites work, as they currently do not get as much advertising revenue from them as they do from newspapers.

Alan Edmunds, publishing director at Media Wales - home to the Western Mail and the South Wales Echo - said the company's website was helping them reach a "large audience".

"Despite the obvious challenging circulation environment there has been a slight improvement in the circulation trend for both the South Wales Echo and the Western Mail as a result of a number of editorial and publishing enhancements," he said.

'Challenging environment'

"For example, we're planning to launch the second phase of the South Wales Echo's redesign in September and this will be backed up by a number of newspaper sales initiatives.

"Following a redesign in June, the Western Mail has continued to focus on serving its key business and political audiences in print and through the large audience we reach through WalesOnline."

Rob Irvine, publishing director at Trinity Mirror North Wales, which publishes the Daily Post, said it too had seen a rise in people using its website.

"We've seen an improvement to the circulation trend for the Daily Post which is encouraging in the current challenging environment and we're delighted with a significant increase to our unique user numbers for, up 28% period on period and 43% year on year," he said.

"The Daily Post remains focused on serving our audiences and advertisers across print, online and mobile."

The South Wales Evening Post and the Leader have been asked to comment, while the South Wales Argus did not want to comment.

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