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Editor hits back in war of words with university

The editor of a leading Welsh daily is at loggerheads with the country’s premier journalism college after one of its academics claimed it was in “terminal decline.”

Western Mail boss Alan Edmunds has accused the Cardiff school of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies of recycling “one-eyed, indequately researched hyperbole” about the newspaper and its owners, Trinity Mirror.

It followed an article on the campaigning website Open Democracy by Cardiff research fellow Andy Williams in which he blamed Trinity for a fall in the Mail’s circulation from 94,000 in 1979 to under 30,000 now.

In a lengthy critique of the publisher’s stewardship of its Welsh titles, he claimed the company had “consistently valued the private interests of the City of London over the public interest of the readers and communities it serves.”

But the claims provoked an equally strongly-worded rebuke today from Mr Edmunds, who is publishing director of Media Wales as well as editor of the Mail.

He said: “We will be taking this up in very strong terms with Cardiff University to tell them that, in our view, this is another example from them of one-eyed, inadequately-researched hyperbole full of ill-informed statements, old chestnuts, tired cliches and 1970s rhetoric.

“It is almost identical in tone and line to an equally out-of-touch and quaint view published by the same research department a few years ago and shows an astonishing lack of understanding of how we have had to change and modernise to meet the fast-evolving demands of readers and advertisers.

“They could have written about the fact that Media Wales was the first regional centre in Britain to introduce an integrated multimedia newsroom for its online, morning, evening, Sunday and weekly titles more than two years ago, which has spawned a constant stream of visits to the centre from others throughout the industry.

“Far from being an expert view of how the media in Wales has or should have developed, this report betrays a total lack of understanding of the Welsh media marketplace and how it is developing. In my view it is not based on new insights into the circulation challenge that has faced the whole industry but on old prejudices.”

In his article, Dr Williams also claimed that successive cutbacks are having “a devastating effect on the quality of the news.”

“Reporters are finding it increasingly hard to do basic tasks such as get out on their ‘patch,’ make themselves known, cultivate contacts, and gather the news. Instead they are desk-bound, passive, and reliant on resource-rich news sources with efficient public relations teams willing to feed them press releases which can easily be ‘re-nosed’ into shallow and inoffensive news stories.”

However Mr Edmunds responded: “The easily repeated barb about the regurgitation of press releases, for example, is tiresome and insulting to the first class journalists and managers in the regional media.

“We are incredibly disappointed that, despite our attempt at trying to drag Cardiff’s researchers out of the dark ages and into the real world following their last report, they appear to have reverted to type.”


Hengist Pod (21/07/2010 10:27:40)
Don’t shoot the messenger Alun!

Ex-Wales (21/07/2010 11:03:39)
The report was accurate: During the past 20 years the Western Mail has just purely gone down hill – fast.
It now totally fails to engage its readers, and refuses to splash on anything happening outside of Cardiff. I was told by one of their reporters that a big story was ‘too Swansea’ to make it. And I was astonished to read a splash on reseach from the Welsh Assembly about recycling figures. There was an obvious amount of CTRL C and CTRL V in the piece – yawn-making.
Add to that the fact that the swanky new Media Wales multimedia centre (blah blah blah) meant that reporters and subs left by the bus load, and you get a paper that’s declining in quality, not on the ascent. There were a few reporting jobs advertised there around this time last year I think. None of us elsewhere in Wales, no matter what our circumstances, would touch them with a barge-pole.
The circulation figures speak for themselves, and I agree with the people at Cardiff University – that it’s all Trinity Mirror’s fault.

Never Wales (21/07/2010 11:47:14)
It’s not all Trinity Mirror’s fault, Ex Wales. Some of the blame can go their way, but you could only blame Trinity Mirror for it all if every other newspaper was putting on sales, or even hanging on to circulation. The suggestion that the Welsh papers are just full of press releases is offensive to the journalists in the newsroom, not Trinity Mirror, but above all isn’t true. The cut and paste allegation tends to be made by ex journalists who will swear blind they never so much as looked at a press release or by academics whose most recent knowledge of a newsroom will be watching the background on Sky News. The research has a back-of-a-fag-packet air to it, mixed in with a bit of gossip. In fact, it’s not research at all. But it’s got the author a bit of publicity. Sad he’s cut and pasted old chestnuts to do it.

Media chimp (21/07/2010 12:22:18)
As someone who left the company very recently I can say that there are harsh truths on both sides of this argument, and blunt refusals to accept their own failings. Media Wales is making big efforts to modernise in an extremely tough market, with some success. But the is no doubt whatsoever that the exodus of staff, many due to cuts but many through choice, has had a significant effect on the quality of journalism. It goes without saying that the vast majority of journalists there are extremely passionate about what they do and Will take offence at the press release jibe, but for the same reason they will also recognise the truth in the report, that one of the most profitable regional journalism centres in the UK has been reduced to it’s current state is an indictment of Trinity Mirror’s leadership.

Observer (21/07/2010 12:51:41)
There’s truth on both sides, but I don’t think that’s the point. The Western Mail does have cut and paste stories, and also has interesting in-depth articles. But the problem is it’s the same boring old stuff about house prices, the Welsh-language debate, wind farms, the Welsh Assembly etc etc. Until the Western Mail and the hard-pressed reporters can get out there, find the news and come up with something that isn’t 24 hours old when it’s published, then it’ll keep losing sales.
Invest in quality – ‘meet the fast-evolving demands of readers and advertisers’ – and the story will change. Until Trinity, Northcliffe, Johnson et al do that, and take a hit on the idiotic profit demands of the City, then nothing will change.

Melody Makepeace (21/07/2010 15:42:09)
Full of ‘old chestnuts, tired cliches’ hmm – fancy.

mike smith (22/07/2010 10:08:22)
Odd that the environment for commercial news organisations is so rich that itvWales has also been forced to cut its editorial resources in the face of a difficult advertising environment. Even the BBC with its licence to print money has seen cutbacks and I can’t remember the last time a news story was broken by BBC Wales.
The nature of news journalism has changed dramatically and more importantly the way people access news, comment and entertainment.
Please don’t con yourselves having press release sprinted with a minimum of changing is anything new. In the 1980s I can well remember the resources in one section of the Western Mail – and this was when it was selling around 100,000 – consisted of press releases with a scribbled new intro and then handed to copytypists to input.
Standards have actually improved in some vital areas. For example, the arts and business coverage is vastly improved on the 1980s and even 1990s.
If it wasn’t for the determination of journalists at senior
level, including editors past and present, not all of the existing titles would still be with us.
Perhaps the academics could have a look at the thriving business of churning out media studies graduates and postgraduates into a jobs market that has little need or desire for them.
Wantt o improve media in Wales? Easy, buy the papers, watch Wales-based TV and log on to Wales-created web material.

Deej (26/07/2010 14:28:51)
At least part of the reason for the Western Mail’s recent decline in sales can be attributed to poor editorial decision-making. It frequently splashes on irrelevant and uninteresting stories when better pieces are buried within. Only last Thursday its splash reported on problems with the Cameron and Clegg coalition, which had nothing directly to do with Wales, when there were at least three strong Welsh stories it could have led with relegated to inside pages. Its front-page pictures are often boring and sometimes even bizarre; twice in recent years its main image was a brussels sprout! Irrespective of whether or not people are turning to other (free) media for their news, the Western Mail hasn’t helped itself by giving casual readers little or no incentive to pick up a copy from the newstands.