On the ‘death’ of the newspaper

The latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) six month figures have predictably enough shown almost all daily and weekly newspapers across Ireland and the UK taking a further tumble in sales.

The regional northern Irish dailies; the Belfast Telegraph, the Irish News and the Newsletter have all been sliding to some degree as Alan in Belfast’s fine graphics illustrate over on Slugger.

The Belfast Telegraph’s 11 .7% decline over the last six months is clearly the most pronounced, dropping 8,862 copies, somewhere in the region of 340 per week. The Irish News, while still recording a 3.2% decline, registered a less dramatic gradient, albeit still a declining one.

One of the key differences between the rival dailies has been the on-line news strategy. While the Irish News exclusively operates a pay-wall system, the Belfast Telegraph have set the standard for free online news content in Northern Ireland.

Is it over analytical to suggest that the Telegraph have moved too fast to meet the growing consumption of news online at the expense of the newspaper itself? Or are consumers merely cutting back on an additional evening edition of the Belfast Telegraph for example? There’s probably some degree of truth in both those observations.

While the trend continues to switch increasing emphasis to online content, the problem is making that news model pay. As David Gordon remarked to me a few months back, it’s very difficult to set up a chip-shop on a street opposite an outlet giving away the same food for free at faster rate. The obvious allegory he was drawing upon was the looming figure of the BBC, dominant when it comes to online news not just in Northern Ireland. It’s not easy to take on a news corporation that boasts the state’s backing.

BUCKING THE TREND

However while the ABC figures have brought gloomy tidings to most print newsrooms around the British Isles, it wasn’t the same case for all. My own newspaper, the Tyrone Herald based in Omagh actually recorded a 6.8% rise over the same period, making it the fastest growing newspaper in Northern Ireland. Our group sister paper, the Donegal News’ Monday edition proved the fastest growing in Ireland, growing 7.8%, while another group title, the Fermanagh Herald has grown 1.6% to overtake the Impartial Reporter as the number one newspaper in Fermanagh for the first time. The North Belfast News also recorded a 5.5% rise, along with the Tyrone Times (1.3%).

The strong performance of the NWIPP group’s titles were discussed on last Friday’s edition of Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme, where Roy Greenslade (City University London) and Austin Hunter (Former Newsletter editor) debated the decline of the newspaper in light of the latest ABC findings.

Listen again (only available for four days).

Some of arguments put across by Austin include the quality of the local news coverage, coupled with good quality photography and sport coverage. However, what is curious to note with regard to the NWIPP group’s strong performance, and returning to my initial point, was the fact that the group’s online news service largely remained off-line during this period.

The group is set to rectify that situation with the launch of a completely overhauled online news service for all its titles in coming weeks. Taking the example of services offered around the region, it will seek to strike the balance between retaining an adequate online news presence while not underselling its print titles. Amidst the flux of change and recession we operate in, this above all else appears to be key.

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About AldousDuke
Mid Tyrone journalist, not so freelance any more.

One Response to On the ‘death’ of the newspaper

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention On the ‘death’ of the newspaper « Aldous Duke -- Topsy.com

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