Our Editor Phil Parry here looks at why Welsh newspapers and a style of ‘journalism’ recommended by an Editor in Wales, have hit the UK headlines.
In the past 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 (BBC CW) TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
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.
It is always bad news when the Welsh media hits UK headlines in a negative way.
It is even worse when a major ‘news’ website in Wales is described as a “clickbait factory producing endless articles about Welsh celebs, rugby the weather and banal lists”.
Yet that is exactly what has happened with WalesOnline.
The Clickbait column of Private Eye skewered the website and has also said: “The Media Wales building (in Cardiff) produces long-standing titles including the South Wales Echo, the Western Mail, and Wales on Sunday“.
The piece highlights, too, the present plans for the website and papers’ owners Reach plc, to cut huge numbers of staff, saying: “… the axe is falling… at national publications. Take the Welsh operation of Reach plc, centred in Cardiff’s Media Wales building.
“The National Union of journalists says 70 of the 140-strong workforce have been told that jobs are under threat…
“… One such recent (banal) list (by WalesOnline) promised Welsh readers the answers to ten key questions about the government’s new £50 bike repair scheme. They only had to scan the first sentence to discover the most important answer: that the scheme is not available in Wales.”
Yet this is not the first time that Media Wales or its owner Reach have made news across the UK.
The plight of staff has featured widely, as the plans by Reach were revealed.
One reporter told The Eye: “Everyone thinks their job is now on the line and this all spells the end for the Mail and the Echo being paid-for papers”.
A journalist and leading media commentator in Wales said: “The Echo is very close to the point where it’s no longer worth publishing it”.
Simon Thomas, a rugby correspondent for the Western Mail, South Wales Echo, Wales on Sunday and WalesOnline, tweeted that he may not be seen soon.
Meanwhile in an internal email last month, Reach Editor-in-Chief Lloyd Embley and group Chief Operating Officer the Editor-in-Chief of Media Wales and Editor of the Western Mail, Alan Edmunds (known as ‘The Jockey’ because of his short stature), said the “transformation” plans would have implications for “everyone in our editorial, circulation and printing teams – both regionally and nationally”.
They said the heart of this ‘transformation’ was the creation of a “single editorial division, rather than the current nationals and regionals split” with the same for circulation teams.
Across editorial and circulation departments on UK publications, staffing numbers are expected to plummet, with roles potentially put at risk in order to “conduct a fair process”.
The cutbacks are part of changes intended to deliver savings of £35 million a year at a one-off cost of £20 million.
As of 2019 Reach employed 2,598 journalists and editorial staff across 150 press brands.
Apart from the Western Mail and South Wales Echo, titles include the Daily Mirror and Daily Express, as well as the Manchester Evening News and Birmingham Mail.
Major issues surrounding the lockdown have exacerbated huge difficulties already in place for newspapers, and in the usual business-speak, Guardian Media Group (GMG) Chief Executive Officer David Pemsel, has said: “The media sector remains challenging (an understatement!).
“However, our reader revenues are growing well, our advertising proposition remains strong, and more people are reading us than ever before.”
But shocking readership figures have emerged in Wales, piling more pressure on regional paper owners such as Reach.
The Daily Post (a morning paper which serves North Wales), in 2019 was on 16,327 and long ago overtook the South Wales Echo, but regional morning papers traditionally sell LESS than evening newspapers!
The lockdown has simply made worse a historic decline for the South Wales Echo.
In 1979 it was on 120,000 and 1997 74,246, while even in 2005 the circulation was 57,852.
Today The South Wales Echo has arrived pitifully at a circulation figure of just 8,500.
‘News’ on the paper’s website WalesOnline appears to underscore the Private Eye piece.
Paul Rowland, the website’s Editor, has an interesting view on what constitutes journalism.
On WalesOnline, 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.”
Meanwhile it appears that ‘stories’ about the opening of bars is an important source of ‘news’ for the website.
In 2016, 17 ‘stories’ were published on WalesOnline about Coyote Ugly, where women dance for (largely male) customers.
One, 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 (sic) 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.”
Readers though were unimpressed.
One noted sarcastically in the comments section: “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.”
Yet it hasn’t been sexisim in WalesOnline that has been attacked in the UK media, but clickbait ‘journalism’.
What sort of advertisement is that for Wales?
The memories of Phil’s astonishing 37-year award-winning career in journalism (which has NOT included clickbait ‘stories’, but DOES have his time in newspapers like the South Wales Echo) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in the major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!