Journalist academic predicts the Western Mail could run out of readers within next 10 years

A senior journalism academic has sparked off a major debate in Wales following his prediction that the country’s national daily newspaper – the Western Mail - could have no readers left in ten years.

Media website HoldTheFrontPage reports that Dr Andy Williams, of Cardiff University, has written an extended essay called ‘Stop Press? Crisis in Welsh newspapers and what to do about it’ in which he claims the newspaper will have no readers by 2021 if circulation continues to fall at the current rate.

Reports HTFP: “The journalism lecturer made headlines in July last year when he blamed publisher Trinity Mirror for a fall in the Mail’s circulation from 94,000 in 1979 to under 30,000 and claimed many of its stories were recycled press releases.

“The accusation led editor Alan Edmunds to hit back at Dr Williams saying he was peddling ‘one-eyed, inadequately researched hyperbole” about the newspaper’.”

The Western Mail, which was once a bastion of Thomson Regional Newspapers, holds a status in Wales similar in Scotland, to The Scotsman, and to a lesser degree, the Press and Journal and The Courier, Dundee.

In his essay, published on the Radical Wales website, Williams claims public subsidy and not-for-profit news ‘hubs’ could safeguard the future of the local press in Wales.

He writes: “We cannot put this debate off indefinitely. Given the precarious state of Wales’ national newspaper, in the not-too-distant future, we the Welsh public, might have to think about intervening to ensure it continues existence.

“I believe a good place to start would be to limit public subsidy to a new generation of non-profit, perhaps co-operatively-owned news organisations, beginning with existing ‘news holes’ in areas where local papers have closed down.

“Recently redundant journalists are not, unfortunately, in short supply. Enabling such committed professionals to staff a series of non-profit community news hubs in Wales would provide much-needed jobs and ensure that the skills of this soon-to-be lost generation of news workers are kept alive.”

He adds: “These news hubs would not be newspapers in the traditional sense. They could also operate as community media centres, offering training opportunities to those interested in truly collaborative journalism.

“Rather than the ‘pump and dump’ approach to working with audiences employed by so many commercial news organisations, this would facilitate properly-funded skill sharing between journalists and public.

“Wales has a long and proud history of cooperative worker-ownership: it’s time this historic commitment to mutual aid and community values replaced the profit-at-all-costs mentality that has dominated the provision of our news for too long.”

According to HTFP, Trinity Mirror declined to comment. The latest ABC figures state that the Western Mail has a circulation of 26,931.

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