Bad circulation

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‘The figures look good on the Echo now, but I bet they’ll go down!’

Here our Editor Phil Parry stresses how the coronovirus/Covid-19 lockdown has exacerbated a disastrous decline in circulation figures for local papers, when the Cardiff newspaper where he started his long journalistic career used to be the biggest-selling one produced in Wales but is no longer. 

Earlier he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Cymru Wales TV Current Affairs series he presented for 10 years, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil on BBC Cymru Wales Today in 1988 – speak and be quick about it!

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

He has also disclosed why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, and how information from trusted sources is crucial at this time of crisis.


The South Wales Echo newsroom used to produce news

The phrase is ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’ but in fact figures don’t lie.

It is worth re-emphasising the latest circulation numbers during the lockdown, which show that the readerships of ALL newspapers have plunged dramatically (perhaps reflecting the greater use of digital versions), but it’s been confirmed that The South Wales Echo, which used to be the biggest-selling newspaper produced in Wales, is now way behind.

The Echo sells less than 10,000 a day, yet when I started on it (in 1983) it was over 80,000. It served the biggest city in Wales (Cardiff), as well as the major South Wales valleys so this was quite right.

Even when comparing like with like, set against other regional papers in Wales, it is obvious that the Echo is doing particularly badly.

The South Wales Echo circulation has plunged since Phil was on it

By last summer the South Wales Evening Post (based in Swansea) was selling 12,995 and the South Wales Echo’s circulation was 9,951, although it is probably less now.

In 2017 it was reported that the morning newspaper serving North WalesThe Daily Post, was then Wales’ best-selling regional newspaper (and morning papers traditionally sell far less). Figures for 2016 showed that the paper sold an average of 22,251 copies, although even that was a fall from the 23,645 printed copies sold in 2015, and it is now on far less. It is clear that the whole print sector remains in long-term decline, and the present crisis has only made this worse.

Is it the ‘national’ newspaper of Wales now?

Another morning paper The Western Mail (which styles itself as ‘the national newspaper of Wales’) saw its circulation fall to 15,697 copies in 2016, down from an average of 18,063 the previous year, and again today has a daily circulation which is massively lower.

In February 2017 the daily circulation of the South Wales Argus (based in Newport) showed a drop of 5.8 per cent to 10,808, yet this was reported as a triumph because it had fallen slightly less than others.

Paul Rowland the Editor of WalesOnline said writing about street food was the way to get into journalism

Wales on Sunday (WoS) has also lost an enormous number of readers, reaching an average circulation of just 11,608 in 2016 compared with 14,314 the previous year, and has fallen even further today.

The hit rate for the Media Wales’ website WalesOnline is far greater and this was thought to provide a way forward. But knowledge of journalist libel laws among executives there is sketchy, and the then Editor (now known as the ‘Audience and Content Director’Paul Rowland threatened to sue me for an accurate satirical piece on The Eye.

In December 2016 Mr Rowland warned me:  “I am placing it (the satirical article) in the hands of our lawyers”. He used the extraordinary words  “satire is no defence against libel” when in fact it can be.

Mr Rowland also has an interesting view of what constitutes news. On his website, he advised a reader anxious to break into journalism:   “You might not be interested in ’19 mouth watering street food dishes and where to find them in Wales’, and you might believe it’s not something we should be writing (I wouldn’t agree, but that’s fine). That doesn’t mean it’s clickbait.”

But this kind of journalism is not popular among the staff there. As one reporter told me:  “All we seem to do is write lists about the best places to have a cup of coffee in Wales, and the only things we can be sure will get in are ‘stories’ about celebs, rugby or the weather”.

Dancing for men – a ‘good’ story for WalesOnline

The opening of bars has also proved fruitful territory for WalesOnline. 17 ‘stories’ were published on the website in 2016 about ‘Coyote Ugly’, on St Mary Street in Cardiff.

Yet one reader of WalesOnline said sarcastically about their ‘reports’ on ‘Coyote Ugly’: “Scantily clad women dancing on a bar, serving drinks in-between, whilst men look on but can’t touch?No sexism there. At all.” Another said: “I think someone needs to look up what sexism is, because this is exactly that.”

WalesOnline ‘reports’ are SO important

A so-called ‘story’ in December of that year, was headlined:  “Watch the Coyote Ugly Cardiff girls practise their moves ahead of opening night”.

An earlier item said:  The girls will start their ‘Coyote Bootcamp’ on Monday ahead of the venues grand opening’. Following a weekend of auditions, owner’s (sic) at Cardiff’s new Coyote Ugly bar have finished their ‘Coyote Search’ and have recruited a number of girls. Nobee, Sally, Rio, Lauren and Chloe have all been chosen to work as Cardiff Coyotes.”

The mainstream media in Wales…

The then owner of ‘Media Wales’, the website ‘WalesOnline’  as well as the newspapers ‘South Wales Echo’, ‘WoS’ and ‘The Western Mail’, ‘Trinity Mirror’  (now known as ‘Reach’) brought in a ‘Digital First’ strategy as part of the ‘Connected Newsroom’ scheme when ‘target hit rates’ were introduced, to try and counter the trend of falling circulation and embrace the supposed digital future.

But as The Eye reported some digital companies are facing severe challenges and maybe old-fashioned journalism at some newspapers is on the way back.

Book posterYet will this be enough to save them in Wales when the circulation figures are so low, and the lockdown has made them worse?

It’s a big ask…


Tomorrow – more worrying revelations about Higher Education institutions. 

The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades-long award-winning career in journalism (including his time in newspapers) as he was gripped by the rare disabling neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster!