Friday, 14 November 2008

Newspaper job losses in South Wales


I have already blogged about job cuts earlier this year at ITV Wales and Trinity Mirror. The whole media industry in Wales is shrinking- it was never adequate to start with. Despite the great talent in broadcasting and journalism in Wales, and the fact that people trust Welsh and local-based media the most, it has been a disastrous year. Broadcasting should be devolved to the Assembly. Who will look after its interests in Wales if not?

This week has seen more media cuts announced by Trinity Mirror, this time in our local Valleys papers. Newspaper offices could face closure in Aberdare, Ebbw Vale and Neath. Up to ten jobs are expected to go. Some of the local Valleys papers will now have to merge together, leading to these distinct and trusted local titles being lost. Trinity Mirror is a FTSE listed company with a profit of over £60million in 2007. This centralisation and loss of jobs will no doubt result in even bigger profits for the company next year!

This is a crisis and needs a solution. The appetite for news, including local news, is as big as ever as the popularity of free but poor-quality titles like the Metro in London demonstrates. Could there be an opportunity for a more relevant Welsh alternative? The Metro makes money from advertising. Perhaps what Wales needs is a grant scheme to help establish our own Welsh media sector to compete with Trinity Mirror's near-monopoly. I'd be interested to hear other people's ideas.

4 comments:

Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...

i will take the opportunity to give you my ideas.

Firstly, the elephant in the room with this becoming a 'devolved' matter is S4C. I would put forward the idea, backed up by a response i received from the Minister (Rhod Glyn Thomas at the time) that there is 'no appetite' for devolving broadcasting.

Buried in the UK Department of Culture, S4C's budget is not the huge albatross that it would be for the WAG. Dr. Justin Lewis, Cardiff University, has been clear that S4C is the 'most subsidised, per viewer, channel in the world'. Meeting that subsidy is far more difficult for the WAG than it is for the UK Government.

I am not saying that S4C should go, because it is a lazy accusation, but fact is that is a huge factor why the WAG dont want to devolve it.

Secondly, the facts speak for themselves - 85% of welsh people choose London based Newspapers, now we can argue regarding whether this is to do with choice, the lack of quality welsh media and the like. These are certainly reasons, however fact is that people are voting with their feet - choosing London based newspapers.

Thirdly, online news consumption is and will continue to eradicate the 'dead tree press'. The fact that online news makes that consumption 'borderless' also lends itself against devolving the media. It is this very reason the 'Y BYD' was such a flawed idea. Primarily because a newspaper is a idiotic format for a government to invest in (online would have been different), but also because they didnt commit to making it bi-lingual. A 'newspaper for the whole of wales' should include the main dialects spoken - welsh AND english.

Fourthly, essentially you are calling for the broadcasters, both the BBC and the private sector to devolve their infrastructure, being accountable to another governmental structure and thereby increasing the burden on what are organisations facing huge funding problems as it is.

Also, the major premise in your post; the great amount of talent in Wales, is something not qualified or even true. Can you provide any evidence for that comment? Cardiff University has a brilliant journalism department, i studied there myself. But students are not even primarily Welsh, and many seek media work outside of Wales. To say that there is a more proportional talent based than other parts of the UK is at best unfounded and at worst deliberately misleading.

To conclude, these are hurdles i see, and also your proposal needs to pass every test when requesting new powers - 'Will the people of the Wales benefit if it is devolved?'

Amanwy said...

There is certainly a need for a national response. I think there is merit in looking at the model of the Scott Trust, the not for profit owners of the Guardian, to create an independent ownership structure for the Welsh media:

http://bevanfoundation.blogspot.com/2008/10/time-to-move-on-from-itv.html

Leanne Wood said...

Sweet and Tender Hooligan - You argue that the devolution of broadcasting would impose more of a bureaucratic burden on already overstretched broadcasters and you doubt whether it would benefit viewers in Wales. I'd say that it's worth reminding ourselves how we got into the position where we have far fewer hours of Welsh programming on ITV and less choice of Welsh programming despite the fact that digital television was supposed to give us greater choice. The cause of this problem is the light-touch regulation introduced by the Communications Act, not over-regulation. The Communications Act has created a regulatory regime that benefits News International to the detriment of the viewer. We need more regulation, and I think that should be at a Welsh level.

Your argument against the devolution of responsibility for broadcasting seems to be based on two premises: firstly, that we could not afford to impose more regulation and secondly that S4C is subsidised. Neither of these are arguments against devolving broadcasting. In fact the failure of the UK regulator, Ofcom, to act in the interests of Welsh viewers is a strong argument in favour of the devolution of Welsh broadcasting."

Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...

Leanne,

Firstly, if you re-read what I am saying, I am clearly saying there is no appetite for the WAG to devolve broadcasting because frankly they are scared stiff of having to justify S4Cs subsidy. Personally I have yet to see a coherent response to the charge, made by probably the eminent media academic in Wales, that it is the most subsidised, per viewer channel in the World.

My premise is not that S4C is subsidised, it is that it will take a brave WAG to justify that budget.

I repeat, this is a reason why they haven’t thus far, not a reason not to do it at all.

Secondly, in terms of newspapers, it is abundantly clear that people want UK based news – either they don’t think the Western Mail is up to the job (which makes your point about talent pool flawed) or they just prefer a UK perspective. You immediately assume that Welsh viewers feel massively let down by the drop in Welsh coverage, what is that assumption based on?

I have yet to see any figures showing a massive take up of welsh only coverage, not local coverage, but at a Welsh level.

My point about regulation isn’t about the ‘red tape’ argument, it is about that broadcasters will be subject to another tier of representation and regulation they will have to meet. So one broadcaster will have to work with Westminster and Cardiff Bay, this will cost money and general resource. Please note, that broadcasters operating across the UK will have to have a whole set of policies and accountability for both institutions.

You can blame this one and that one for the situation, fact is, that your party and Labour are scared stiff of justifying S4C’s budget out in the open and that to realistically increase welsh only coverage is not financially viable without subsidy. That is the reason that the government your party is in will not do so, regardless of the merits of the idea.