The Death of Media Wales?

The familiar cries of the Media Wales vendors as you walk through Cardiff’s Queen Street often go unnoticed. The men who make their living by selling the South Wales Echo and Western Mail in the city centre have become as commonplace and well-known as the Aneurin Bevan statue which stands at the end of Queen Street, looking proudly towards the castle, another iconic landmark of Cardiff.

What if the castle were to suddenly disappear? And the founder of the NHS gave up his rightful place in the city centre? Or if the vendors, who are relied on to deliver a daily dose of local Welsh news to hundreds of people, simply weren’t there anymore? All three seem unfathomable yet the latter of these may happen in the not so distant future.

Media Wales is going through big changes. Job cuts, redundancies, amalgamation and, most recently, a name change. Media Wales is no more. Owner Trinity Mirror announced this week it would be merging its Wales and Liverpool divisions and renaming it Trinity Mirror North West and Wales.

This announcement, accompanied with the job losses of two regional bosses, is just the latest in a long line of a series of blows to Wales’s media outlet. In November 2008, the editorial department was faced with an announcement of the fourth round of redundancies since the end of 2003. Staff at Media Wales are, unsurprisingly, uneasy and worried about their futures. The economic downturn, declining circulations, high profit expectations, falls in advertising revenues and uncertainty about how to secure sufficient volumes of future digital revenue have combined to prompt grave concern and talk has been rife about exactly what the end of Media Wales will mean for Welsh identity and democracy.

NUJ Father of Chapel, Martin Shipton, believes the future of the company is uncertain, and that there is considerable threat, not only to hundreds of jobs, but to an essential element of Welsh democracy.

Simon Farrington, Media Wales’s Business Development Editor, believes a Wales without its own media is “unthinkable.”

He said: “The Western Mail, for one, is synonymous with Wales, if it didn’t exist there would be a huge void in news values, especially with the government and sports.

“The Celtic papers and the South Wales Echo are the heartbeat of local communities. People turn to their newspapers everyday to see what is happening in their area. It’s what they do on a daily basis, its part of their lives.”

– Simon Farrington talking about the future of Media Wales.

He believes, despite the changes, Media Wales will continue to do what it does best. “Despite any recent decisions, we still produce and will continue to produce excellent, quality newspapers for the people of Wales.”

Circulation figures for Media Wales have dropped considerably, with the Western Mail selling less than 40,000 papers a day and the South Wales Echo selling just 44,624 per day, down almost half from 82,117 since 1994.

The growing number of people switching on their computers for their news rather than opening a newspaper plays a large part in the decline of these figures. The future of journalism certainly seems to be swaying towards the internet.

“Change in journalism has been constant for many years. Going online is just one more change,” said Mr Farrington. “A journalist is a journalist, they are news gatherers and writers. It does not change what they do, whatever medium they use.”

Mike Hill, former head of multimedia at Trinity Mirror Regionals and editor of the South Wales Echo, believes online should compliment the paper rather than replace it and seems optimistic about his new role and the future of the company, despite the figures.

“Whatever we do, circulation will probably go down but our total audience across all our platforms is going up,” he said. “It’s not just us, its happening to papers all over the world. The online version should be used to compliment the paper because a lot of people still value the physical product.

“We are re-launching the South Wales Echo soon, I think the new look will better reflect Cardiff and the people who live here. That’s the one thing I noticed about the paper when I started. Cardiff is going places and is a great place to live but the Echo didn’t reflect that.”

It remains to be seen whether this new-look Echo will boost circulation figures or not. Or will there come a day when news stands throughout Cardiff won’t bear the titles people have been waking up with for most of their lives?

Mark Davies, 30, of York Street, Canton, said he can’t imagine a Wales without its newspapers: “For as long as I can remember there was always a Western Mail and a Wales on Sunday in our house,” he said. “It’s something everyone in Cardiff grows up with. For these to disappear would be terrible. Wales is a nation in its own right and we deserve to have our own paper.”

Media Wales forms a big part of Welsh identity. Buying and reading their titles is an everyday activity for thousands of people. Selling them is the livelihood of several men who stand day after day in the city centre. Whether or not this activity, these jobs and this identity will remain lies solely with the boardroom in London.

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