In the gutter, and heading down the drain

The only explanation I can think of for the disgraceful editorial in this morning's Western Mail is that its circulation must be falling like a stone, and the order must have come from on high to resort to cheap sensationalism to stave off seeing it reduced to a weekly.


I took a quick look at Wiki to see what its circulation figures were. Wiki still has the figure for August 2009, namely 32,926. But that figure has now dropped by more than 7,000 to 25,898, as we can see here.

It obviously can't go on like this, and desperate directors do desperate things. In fact the Monday to Friday circulation is an even more disturbing 23,777 so the paper relies very heavily on its Saturday sales of 36,015 ... and this explains why becoming a weekly is on the cards.

It's a shame, because if it were run in Wales, for Wales (perhaps amalgamated with the Daily Post to become a true national newspaper for the whole nation) it might rebuild itself into something we could respect.

Update - 17:55, 22 May 2012

Many thanks to Huw Aaron for this cartoon:


Update - 12:25, 24 May 2012

For future reference, I've embedded the BBC's news report (it was only on Newyddion, not Wales Today) and the Radio Wales phone-in:



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Anonymous said...

i disagree - its imminent demise wont be a shame! a year ago i wouldnt have said this...but in recent times the self styled national newspaper of wales has taken it upon itself it seems to pick up the baton left by the ramshackle Wales haters of true wales.

in recent times it would appear as if the WM editorial board has been taken over by the millionaire funded london based right wing taxpayers alliance with a steady stream of articles ridiculing and distorting every decision taken by the senedd and AMs.

But today's hate filled anti-welsh drivel defies belief...its as if the last 30 years in wales and in welsh life had not happened. This disgraceful article smacks of the worst kind of 'welsh baiting'...and in its crudeness, its spite and its ignorance is on a par with the "children having to ask to go to the toilet in welsh" lie perpetuated by a certain anti-welsh politician 33 years ago!

Of course far from being the national newspaper of wales the WM is out sold by regional welsh dailies like the south wales evening post by almost 3 to 1...and its difficult to see how reaching out to ukip supporters in wales .as the paper is now clearly doing....will reverse its long term decline.

Certainly today's astonishing attack on bilingualism in wales is a catastrophic error by managers at the WM..a mistake that could well prove many of us who read the mail stop reading it and buying it!

on a final note sad to see a journalist like martin shipton putting his name to this crude hatchet job on bilingualism in wales. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for apparently penning this anti-welsh drivel.

Leigh Richards

Efrogwr said...

Couldn't agree more with MH's post and Leigh's comments. The WM's circulation has just gone down by yet another one!

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Is there a true patriotic lover of Wales and all things Welsh, who has vision and deep pockets?

As a nation, we are badly served by almost entirely anglocentric press and are desparate for an unashamedly National Newspaper of and for Wales.

roger said...

I stopped buying the WM about 5 years ago after 32 years having it delivered daily. mainly because it was more concerned with Sport and anti Welsh substance. It is not even a Welsh paper. But this latest outburst takes it to the realms of the rest of the gutter press.
Good Morning Wales were quick to jump on the story this morning as well and asking for comments from listeners. It was the lead story with them.

Anonymous said...

The WM is doomed. We really need at least 2 or 3 good quality papers plus Welsh editions of the Sun, Mirror, Daily Mail etc.

Ryan said...

I completely agree with you MH.

And it shows that the WM cannot really be the national newspaper when the South Wales Evening Post has a higher circulation (53,700) and when weekly regional papers like the Carmarthen Journal (21,500) and the Llanelli Star (16,200) has more than half of it's circulation.

Aled G J said...

It looks to me as if Trinity Mirror are about to let the WM sink. In a way, this is the best thing that could happen as it will force the Welsh Government to act to address this huge democratic deficit we have concerning Welsh news. I would like them to consider providing a subsidy for a new English language paper and a new Welsh language paper for Wales, channelled through an arm's length body such as the Welsh Books Council. Maybe a journalists' co-op could be amongst those who could tender for the work.

I would also like to see a wider debate about how the UK press media, who sell so well in Wales, can completely ignore Welsh news and politics.

Isn't there a case for setting a tax on these newspapers for the right to sell their wares in Wales- and using that tax to start to build up our own media?

Anonymous said...

If all the AM's spoke in Welsh, the media would be begging/demanding translations of proceedings whatever the cost!

Anonymous said...

the story's been picked up by Rob Williams in the Independent

Jac o' the North, said...

A major problem for the WM is that it's always been out of synch with the wider community it 'served', or even its readers.

A century ago it was known as 'the coal-owners'' paper. There's a story in Michael Foot's biography of Nye Bevan telling how it used to pay (10 shillings, I think) for anti-union or pro-owner letters.

I can remember some 30, maybe 40, years ago, an editorial on election day urging readers to vote Conservative. This from a paper circulating almost exclusively in south Wales!

Which would suggest that it sees - or has in the past seen - itself appealing to an audience that cares about Wales and wants to know what's going on here but believes implicitly in the Union, and may even oppose devolution. Is there such a constituency? If so, how big is it?

There is an obvious dichotomy here, for Unionists tend to be uninterested in Wales, and will buy English morning papers; relying for local news on their evening or weekly paper.

So how has the WM survived this far? Partly due to its sports coverage. For someone like me, interested in both soccer and rugby, it still has no competition.

And when it comes to news, it is still the only game in town, for even though I occasionally buy the Daily Post, this loses out in both national news coverage and sports coverage (due to its over-emphasis on soccer clubs in Manchester and Liverpool).

So apart from those who buy the WM for sports coverage, and those who need to know what's going on for political and professional reasons, the paper is today bought by people such as those contributing comments to this and other blogs. For want of a better word, nationalists.

Which means that the the WM is slowly alienating its core readership. This is not so much editorial misjudgement as evidence of impending suicide. Because there is no other readership out there.

MH said...

I'm reminded of the situation concerning the aborted launch of Y Byd a few years ago. One of its main sources of income would have been the advertising from the Assembly, Welsh Government (and other public bodies in Wales) and the sum talked about was, as it happens, also £400,000 a year.

Trinity Mirror put together a rival bid largely, at least as I saw it, to protect this source of advertising income. For although sales are falling, the Western Mail is still profitable ... and this profitability is in large part due to its income from such advertising. This is why it is at such pains to portray itself as the national newspaper of Wales, for without that tag the idea of one newspaper in which to advertise all national jobs would be meaningless.

So how about the Assembly and/or Welsh Government taking the decision to save some £400,000 or so by no longer advertising job vacancies in the Western Mail? It could be done online at a fraction of that cost. They'd then be able to spend that money on something else. And by happy coincidence ...

Anonymous said...

Top text read out on the radio Wales phone:

“Bilingualism is a principle… as soon as you start questioning the cost of a principle you have lost the arguement” LOL!

That is the sort of arrogant ‘above the law’ mentality we have allowed the Welsh language lobby to develop! I am so pleased with the Western Mail and Martin Shipton for reminding everybody that Welsh language policy is not ‘above the law’ and sacrosanct! It is open to debate and freedom of speech just like everything else

Anonymous said...

If job vacancies etc. are only to be advertised online. Then why complain about jobs being lost in Wales in the print industry? - let all industry jobs go abroad!

MH said...

"Above the law", Anon? The Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee is seeking to uphold the principles of the law in its report.

The 1993 Welsh Language Act set down in law the principle that Welsh and English should be treated on the basis of equality. The principle laid down in the new Welsh Language Measure is that Welsh should not be treated less favourably than English. Both laws were passed by our democratically elected representatives in Westminster and Cardiff Bay.

It therefore seems beyond any reasonable question that if a translation of Assembly business is made at public expense from Welsh to English (which it invariably is) it should also be made the other way. Either we do both or we do neither. The fact that it hasn't been done both ways before now is a mark of shame that we should take this opportunity to correct.

It looks remarkably like the Assembly is trying to pass a special law, applying only to itself, to allow it to get away with lower standards than other public bodies will be subject to under the new Welsh language standards. This committee clearly isn't going to let them get away with it.

Welsh not British said...

£400,000 is a pittance. It works out as 13p for every man, woman and child in Wales.

I was on twitter last night when the news broke. One of their staff posted the front page. It was retweeted and within minutes it was viral amongst the Welsh twitter community and quickly became a trending topic throughout the UK.

This is their Ratners moment. It'll be interesting to see the next set of sales figures.

Neilyn said...

I've continued to buy the Western Mail on a Saturday over the years (I stick with on-line and TV sources during the week) simply because there is at least some coverage of Welsh social, cultural and political issues, a token offering of Cymraeg and some vague overall semblance of it being a "Welsh national paper" (I live up North and have more or less given up on Dail Y Post). Hand on heart though, I've always lived in hope of something much better, truly and unashamedly Welsh coming along, something that could stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the London broadsheets, and fire Welsh people's imagination. We desperately need proper Welsh national papers, including of course one of the very highest calibre in Welsh.

Let's hope this is the beginning of something better. Right now the Mule looks more Wasted than ever.

Cibwr said...

I have to admit my first reaction was sadness. We need a national newspaper in Wales, the Western Mail pretends to be that and it has graphically (as in the cartoon) shot its self in the foot. I have become increasingly irritated by the belittling stories of expenditure on the National Assembly, all of which are in the scale of thing, peanuts. Contrast that with this story from 4 years ago from the Evening Standard in London...

21 May 2008
The House of Lords is spending £32 million refurbishing a suite of offices for 117 peers and their secretaries, the Evening Standard can reveal.

The sum covers fittings including £130,000 on chandeliers, £60,000 on sandblasted glass, £84,000 on cupboard doors and £70,000 to polish oak fittings.

Other costs include catering facilities, a library, hi-tech lighting and heating for each office, external solar shading and blast-resistant windows.

The spending comes on top of the £65 million spent by Parliamentary authorities in buying three buildings across the road from Westminster to provide peers with extra space.

The Lords' administration and works committee has agreed to spend £ 31.8million doing up the Millbank offices, equivalent to £271,800 for each peer who will work in the "stream-lined and flexible office environment".

The Liberal Democrats tried to block the refurbishment budget, which has gone up £414,232 in the last six months, but were overruled by Labour and Tory peers. Lib-Dem Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott said: "Members of the House of Lords are in Parliament to serve the people, not sting them.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I wouldn't wish to defend the standard of reporting in the WM, I think those who believe that it might be replaced by something better are being naively optimistic. The WM's decline mirrors that of the printed press in general - but it is magnified by the small size of the market for Welsh news. No amount of Welsh Government subsidy is going to change that, not that I think there is any chance of a subsidy being forthcoming. Unfortunately, we are going to have to live without a proper Welsh press. This poses huge problems for the health of our still-fledgling democracy, and indeed for the future of our nation.

MH said...

I couldn't agree more that this is a big fuss over a relatively minor sum. It would be interesting to know how it compares with the money spent on translating from Welsh to English ... money that no-one seems prepared to question. As a very large part of the cost of translation depends on the speed at which it is done, we could probably save lots of money simply by waiting a few days for the English translation rather than publishing it the next day.

And of course the sum is insignificant compared with other, far more questionable, things that we spend public money on. I've just written a post on the £3.5bn the Welsh Government will spend on capital investment over the next three years. How we spend that sort of money matters more and deserves much closer scrutiny than it is getting as a result of this distraction. Maybe that was the intention.


As for the Western Mail itself, I really don't want to see its demise. I want to see it transformed into a paper we can respect. There is room for a completely biased, one-sided view of the news when there is a multiplicity of such outlets. There is room for Daily Mail standards of journalism when there are other newspapers for people to choose between. But the Western Mail, as the only paper purporting to offer a national Welsh perspective, simply can't afford to be so one-sided. It must be fairer and more balanced. It's commercial suicide for it not to be.

But it must make such a decision for itself. As I said, and as Rob Williams of the Independent said better than I did, it has taken a desperate "try anything" gamble in a last ditch attempt to keep enough readers to remain a daily paper. But the new readers it will gain will not make up for the existing readers it will alienate. The handful of anti-Welsh letter and comment writers may each use a few dozen bogus identities, but certainly won't go out and buy a few dozen copies of the paper every day.

Anonymous said...

Anyone have any idea how many hits WalesOnline gets? This doesn't seem to come up in discussions of the Western Mail's declining paper circulation.

Also see today that our old friend Paul Murphy jumping on the anti-Welsh bandwagon. Just the usual suspects doing what you would expect, or something more sinister and coordinated?

Unknown said...

Anon - I think it is coordinated, but hardly scary enough to count as sinister, I think. The multiple personae of the anti-welsh poster on Walesonline, who's motives are difficult to discern, is ineffective, and easily out-argued, and often humiliated for his lack of competence in the English language.

It would be a shame to see the WM go, but since many of their functions were removed to Canary Wharf, their connection to Wales have become ever more tenuous.

I would like to see something like NewsNetScotland established here. I don't know a lot about it, what their economic model is, and so on, but I do know that it is an excellent alternative voice in the Scottish political firmament.

MH said...

My guess is that after the wave of condemnation, the WM went looking for someone prominent who supported their editorial position, and Paul Murphy was an obvious choice. Popes, bears and the Taxpayers' Alliance fall into the same category.

I don't know how many online hits the WM gets, though I'm sure its more than the circulation of the paper version. I hardly ever buy a copy of it or any other newspaper, and I guess many others do the same. The problem is monetizing those hits. Online advertising is fairly useless if, like me, you set your browser to filter it out. But perhaps most people don't.

And yes, we do have to figure out what to do if the WM folds (although I think it could carry on as a weekly for as long as it gets the advertising revenue from Welsh public bodies) and something like Newsnet Scotland would be good. Wales Home seemed at one time to have the potential to develop into something similar, but it's now disappeared without trace. That's a shame too. So the answers aren't obvious or easy, though this piece by Owen Donovan came up with a few interesting points.

More support from public funds might be necessary (i.e. in addition to the money papers like the WM already get from Welsh public bodies) as happens in Norway, but would they carry this headline:

An astounding £400k on newspaper subsidies: What world are these journalists living in?

That's what's so shameful about this episode. You work yourself and other people up into a frenzy over one sum of money, completely ignoring the context of such expenditure. The same lack of perspective (or more bluntly, lack of professionalism) explains the WM's reporting on similar things like prescription charges and cancer treatment.

Anonymous said...

On a more positive minority language point, I would like to congratulate Russia for coming second in tonight’s Eurovision song contest.

In Russia minority languages are under a much greater threat than Welsh due to near zero state support and outside 1 or 2 exceptions like Tatar very limited educational opportunities to learn in those languages. Sadly the Udmurt people are a minority in their own land, with ethnic Russians in the majority in the Udmurt Republic the language is in rapid decline.

Their song was half in English and half in Udmurt, not a single word of Russian. Which is a great public/ publicity victory for the language.

Can you really imagine the UKs entry being in Welsh, I think not.

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