David Montgomery, the former chief executive of the Mirror Group, has claimed that Reach is "too embarrassed” to reveal its newspaper circulation figures after the company omitted them from its annual earnings report.
Reach was rebranded from Trinity Mirror last year in order to “better reflect [its] scale across both print and digital”. Reach owns Local World, a group of newspapers that was formed by Montgomery in 2012. It was acquired by Trinity Mirror in 2015 for £220m with a number of daily and weekly newspapers and websites that included the Bristol Post, The Burton Mail, The Nottingham Post and the Leicester Mercury among them.
It released its 2018 financial results yesterday (25 February) which showed a 16.2% growth in revenue to £723.9m following the acquisition and integration of the Express & Star stable.
Despite the growth, Montgomery suggested Reach was seeing continued decline in circulation in its titles.
When approached by The Drum about the lack of figures in the financials, a spokesperson highlighted a section of the Reach website that stated: “Reach sold 540 million newspapers last year.”
Montgomery was the chief executive of the publisher of the Daily Mirror between 1992 and 1999 and now runs a TV network called Local TV, which has a presence in Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol.
Montgomery said that the public funding and resulting scale of the BBC has made the battle ground for local news extremely difficult for commercial news businesses to compete with.
He claimed Local TV was now taking up much of the role left in the wake of the diminishing regional newspaper market: "It’s not going to take all of the space of local newspapers but we are gaining audience in a persuasive way for advertisers. Print is losing and not really owning up to the fact that they have such big losses.”
In Birmingham the company had a “greatly superior” audience to the Birmingham Mail, he claimed, and described his company was a "news-based organisation" that served "niche communities."
“We are growing an audience all of the time, but we can’t entirely expect to replace newspapers but we can certainly help fill the vacuum left by declining sales,” he added.
He said the publicly funded BBC was not serving local communities well enough and was preventing competition in the sector to the disadvantage of privately owned media businesses while “trying to be all things to all people.”
However, Montgomery was not in favour of potential of state support for local media companies but lamented the fact the BBC was not willing to share it's archives.
“What is valuable to the public is a commercial operation that can stand on its own two feet, but clearly we do feel aggrieved that there is a so-called local democratic reporting service funded by the taxpayer," he said. "But it is for text only, it does not include video, and the BBC has ferociously protected its video space. It does not share content and has an abundance of local content in their archives,” he stated.
Montgomery said Local TV has requested access to be able to use BBC video content, claiming that it is “public property” and that viewers should have access to the archive. But those requests have been ignored.
“They will behave as they always do by withholding content that should be in the public domain,” he added.
"The government needs to start leveling the playing field of British media. I have no doubts whatsoever that Local TV will flourish, it is needed and these communities need a voice and they do feel neglected by the national agenda of our broadcasters who are completely remote from these great cities of ours…but subsidies to my mind are not the answers. A reliable and quality organisation practicing high standards of news is what will win through here.”
According to figures released to The Drum, the channels run by Local TV reached just under 200,000 people a day in January combined. Reach’s Big City offer, according to the ABCs in January, involving The Daily Mirror, The Daily Record, The Newcastle Chronicle, The Manchester Evening News, The Liverpool Echo, the Birmingham Mail and the South Wales Echo currently have a circulation of 120,525 on average in print and 1,279,150 on average across the combined Reach portfolio.
Andy Atkinson, chief revenue officer, Reach plc queried the ABC’s report on its Big City numbers, and explained: "The 28 titles in the 'Big City' package have a combined daily circulation of 1.3 million and the Daily Mirror alone has a daily circulation of 508,705. This tallies up with the respective ABC certificates for each of these titles.
“It's worth pointing out that as this piece is comparing reach rather than circulation, those same titles actually have a daily reach of 2.7 million, as per Touchpoint 2018. And since we've also acquired the Express and Star, Reach plc newspapers now have a daily circulation of 2.1 million and a daily reach of 3.9 million."