Archive for the ‘Western Mail’ tag

Waving and drowning – the news from Wales

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There has been rather a lot of heat, and some light, about Welsh media this week. Good. It needs it.

Dr Andy Williams lit the touch paper with an article on Open Democracy about the decline of Trinity Mirror in Wales. Williams cited the drop in circulation of Wales’ Western Mail from 94,000 in 1979 to below 30,000 in 2010. Wales’ other ‘national’ daily, the Daily Post has also fallen, from 41,000 in 2004 to below 34,000 now. Though structural problems such as the internet are partly to blame, Williams said, the declines are also the result of ‘sustained mismanagement’ by Trinity Mirror.

Alan Edmunds, editor of the Western Mail, attacked Williams in response, saying the Cardiff academic’s research was ‘full of ill-informed statements, old chestnuts, tired cliches and 1970s rhetoric’. It should be noted that Edmunds did not cite any errors in Williams’ research, despite the uncompromising language. Williams has since strongly defended his article and research.

But the spat between a Cardiff academic and a Welsh newspaper editor needs to be seen in the wider context of Welsh news media. This wider context is bleak. Very bleak. Yet it normally excites almost no debate within our London –centric media.

Very few people in Wales now read a newspaper with news about Wales. The Institute for Welsh Affairs found that 1,760,000 people in Wales (nearly 90 per cent of the population) are reading papers with virtually no Welsh content. ‘No London newspaper publishes a Welsh edition’ (IWA). The combined daily circulations of the Western Mail and Daily Post are less than 65,000 copies, equivalent to one copy sold to every 27 people in Wales.

The situation in commercial broadcasting is no better. ITV, which used to produce 624 hours of programmes per year for Wales now produces 286, 208 hours of which are news (from IWA). ITV has said it intends to withdraw altogether from regional news production. Since the proposed Independently Funded News Consortia have been scrapped by the coalition government it is far from clear what, if anything, will replace ITV Wales.

Therefore Wales is precariously reliant on the BBC for much of its news. Precariously because it is not even clear that Wales is a priority for the BBC. The current BBC Strategy Review hardly mentions Wales (a little embarrassing after Anthony King’s 2008 criticisms). Moreover, even the mighty BBC cannot be relied upon to gather and publish all the news in Wales.

There are parts of Wales that could now be considered news black holes. Take Neath Port Talbot in South Wales. It has a population of 137,400 people and a decent sized council, and yet there are now no professional news organizations based out of Neath Port Talbot or focused on the area. The Port Talbot Guardian and the Neath Guardian, both Trinity Mirror newspapers, closed down in 2009. The South Wales Evening Post, based in Swansea (owned by Northcliffe), adjusts its daily edition slightly for the Neath Port Talbot area (though most of the paper remains non-local news). There is also a weekly insert, the Neath Port Talbot Courier. The South Wales Evening Post had a total circulation, in early 2009, of 46,000. There is a free monthly paper, the Neath & Port Talbot Tribune (Tindle). The Western Mail, regarded as the national newspaper of Wales, is printed out of Cardiff (owned by Trinity Mirror). It carries occasional news from Neath Port Talbot.

The BBC dominates in television and radio news. There are some commercial radio stations in the area, including Swansea Sound and the Wave (out of Swansea) and AfanFM. These are a mixture of music and talk, though there is very limited original local news gathering (Swansea Sound and the Wave take Sky News content).

There is some evidence of nascent grassroots journalism initiatives. Local News South Wales (LNSW) has been trying to set up a workers’ co-operative for journalists, photographers and other media operatives, although this is – according to newmodeljournalism.com – ‘struggling to get off the ground’.

There is also evidence that what most people would consider public interest news is not being reported. For example, a biomass plant is currently being built in Port Talbot. The plant is of particular interest for three reasons: it will be the biggest such plant in the world; it is an environmental experiment that could have significant impact on future energy policy; and it has evoked considerable local anger and protest.

Yet there has been almost no coverage of the plant in the news. Search for ‘Biomass Plant Port Talbot’ on Google and you find fewer than 10 stories since the plant was given the go ahead in 2007 – including just two on BBC news online and 3 short pieces on Reuters, This is South Wales, and Wales Online.

Of course if it is not reported it is not news, and if it’s not news then attracts no attention, and so news provision contracts further. So a bit of heat, as well as some light, is more than a little needed in Wales right now.

Written by Martin Moore

July 22nd, 2010 at 2:45 pm

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