23 October 2014

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Saturday sports title axed mid-season after 109 years

A weekly sports newspaper has been abruptly axed after 109 years of publication ahead of the relaunch of its sister daily this week.

The News, Portsmouth, is among 44 Johnston Press titles getting revamped designs this week as part of the second phase of relaunches of all the publisher’s paid-for titles.

It will include the launch of two new hyperlocal editions for Fareham and Gosport and an increase in the cover price for the Saturday edition.

However the move has coincided with the scrapping of Saturday sports paper the Sports Mail, with managers saying the title had become loss-making.

In a separate development, the publisher has also announced the closure of a free paper in Hastings, the Resident, saying various attempts to “prop it up” had failed.

No jobs have been lost as a result of either closure, although it is understood that plans to recruit a trainee sports reporter at The News have been put on hold.

The changes were announced to staff by Karl Dimmock, managing director of JP’s Southern publishing division, in an internal memo which has been seen by HoldtheFrontPage.

A report on the demise of the Sports Mail, which was first published in 1903, was also carried in Friday’s edition of The News.

Wrote Karl:  “It is with regret that after 109 years we are to cease publishing the Sports Mail. The last edition will be on 6 October, although we are proposing subsequently to produce a souvenir edition looking back at all the highs over the publication’s history.

“Unfortunately as we, and many other media providers, have improved their routes to readers – with the launch of websites, Apps, video etc – the sale of the paper had been dwindling and it had reached a point where it was making a loss, one of the reasons we have decided to close the title mid season.

“However the second, and more important, reason for the timing of this decision is much more positive. Next week we relaunch the News, and we launch The News App.

“Those who turn to the Sports Mail for that day’s action will have unrivalled up-to-the-minute match-day coverage through the iPad App, website and our recently launched The News football app with live commentary, post-match reports and comment.”

The changes will also see increased pagination for the Monday edition of The News to provide additional sports content early in the week.

And grass-roots sport will now be catered for in an eight-page ‘parks’ pull-out in The News each Wednesday with additional pages on Thursday and Friday.

In the memo, Karl also outlined plans for a “bigger, stictched and trimmed” Weekend supplement on Saturdays, with the cover price increasing from 13 October.

He said:  “Dual pricing is not alien to readers, the Echo and the Argus do it locally, and the majority of the nationals do it too, and history shows that Saturday sale is a lot more resilient to price increases, as long as we give something back.”

On the closure of the Resident, Karl said it would allow more resources to be focused on paid-for stablemate the Hastings Observer.

He said:  “We have tried a number of initiatives to prop up this free title, but unfortunately the return does not justify the effort that goes into it, especially when the paid for Observer series is so strong.”

  • The News’ chief sports writer Neil Allen paid an affectionate tribute to Sports Mail in this morning’s edition of the main paper.

“There are three things certain in life – death, taxes… and the end of Saturday sports papers.   I have been here previously, when what was once the largest-selling sports paper in Britain – Birmingham’s Sports Argus – went to the great publisher in the sky,” he wrote.

7 Comments

  1. Phil, Gosport

    Sad state of affairs across the board in newspapers.

    “We’re all doomed”

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  2. Scott McHugh

    Sad day for newspapers. The six years I had doing the Sportsmail at Hull was the best buzz I had during my time in journalism. Cracking reporters ringing through copy on the hoof, six or seven pages still to go with 10 minutes left of deadline, late goals, picking the paper off the press etc etc. Brilliant times

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  3. John

    Bad news, say The Sports mail sold 5,000 every week, now the iPad app will replace it, what percentage of the 5,000 actually own an iPad, probably 1%, so that’s 50 people.

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  4. Steven

    Another non-answered application goes up in smoke then…

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  5. Scott McHugh

    The thing is the lost copy doesn’t go anywhere. Joe Blow who contributed his pigeons in abysmal, hand-written copy. He doesn’t want to see his stuff online. So that’s it for the pigeon fanciers, ten more people won’t buy a paper etc etc. Small number, but they become big eventually.

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  6. Tsk

    If it doesn’t make money, it doesn’t make money. I don’t see a viable alternative to closure.

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  7. John Lock, United Kingdom

    I used to work as a type setter on the News in the early 70’s and I recall that on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm the typesetting would be exclusively for the football mail newspaper. If ever Pompey scored, a big cheer would go up throughout the building and of course a big groan when the opposition scored. It was all action until the final whistle then the paper was printed and on the streets pronto.

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