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Dyson at Large: Newsroom anguish overshadows soaring sales

They should be singing from the rooftops at The Reading Chronicle and Bracknell News if the circulation figures I’ve got my hands on are accurate.

Because both weekly papers appear to have experienced an incredible uplift in paid sales since Trinity Mirror closed the Reading Post last December.

Internal reports for the third week in August show that the Chronicle’s sales (marked RC) rose by more than +59pc, from 4,115 in 2014 to 6,560 this year, and the News’ (marked BN) by +36pc, from 2,173 to 2,964.

Berkshire sales figures

The above figures were leaked to me by an inside source (the next official ABC audit is not due until February 2016) and are typical of sustained growth all year for both titles.

Other pages in my possession show that sales rises one week hit as high as +71pc for the Chronicle (in June) and +67pc for the News (earlier in August).

This unique boost is almost certainly a result of former Reading Post readers still wanting to buy newspapers, perhaps raising questions about the wisdom of Trinity Mirror’s online-only venture.

Further proof of the ‘Post closure boost’ is the more usual -10pc decline shown for the Slough Observer on the same table above (marked SO), because it’s too far away from Reading to have benefited.

While this death-defying sales rise would normally be celebrated, I understand that newsroom morale has been pretty low since what used to be Romanes Media Group newspapers were bought by Newsquest in May. Why the anguish? Well…

Change is never easy, of course, and some is always to be expected when a small company’s titles become part of a larger group.

But worryingly, one HoldtheFrontPage commenter calling himself ‘Jimbobble’ claims things just aren’t going well at the Chronicle since Newsquest arrived:

“Pictures and captions missing, stories spilling over with paragraphs being cut off, stories repeated on multiple pages, the subs inaccurately calling Reading a ‘city’ in headlines… it’s become an absolute joke… largely down to shortcomings in [Newsquest’s] content management system and overworked subs based hundreds of miles away with no knowledge of the patch.”

His views were shared by other insiders I’ve spoken to, and here’s my own snapshot comparison of the Chronicle’s page ones before and after the Newsquest takeover:

Reading

On the left is the Chronicle that I picked up in pre-Newsquest days last November: it’s no design award-winner, but is at least a hard news front, with content blubs under the masthead.

On the right is the Newsquest-owned Chronicle that I picked up last month: a non-declared advertising wrap masquerading as news, with no pointers to any real content inside, despite an empty ear-piece space.

This stark page one difference may have been a blip, of course, although another Chronicle source claims it is “typical of the direction the paper is heading in” since Newsquest’s purchase.

That said, I’m pretty sure that Ian Murray – as well as editing the Southern Daily Echo he’s Newsquest’s editor-in-chief for the region – will be doing his damnedest to make sure this is not the case.

I did ask Ian for comment, by the way, but he politely declined because he didn’t think it was appropriate during the consultation process for staff facing redundancy in Berkshire.

So here’s my own tip for Newsquest: you’ll never have such soaring print sales in Reading and Bracknell again, so take care not to wreck such a great opportunity with too much change for change’s sake.

17 comments

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  • September 23, 2015 at 8:26 am
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    “Soaring sales”? The Chronicle has suffered a truly catastrophic collapse in the last ten years. When I used to work there the circulation was just under 20,000. What’s going on now is a mere flicker in a dying fire. The dead hand of Trinity Mirror fell on Reading some while back: at different times it owned both of the town’s main papers. It ran the Chronicle down steadily, then bought the other, far more successful title, the Reading Evening Post. And closed it. Trebles all round!

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  • September 23, 2015 at 9:16 am
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    And The Post was in decline for years as well, don’t forget, full of business puff and IDR traffic chaos stories, and figures had to be massages massively..

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  • September 23, 2015 at 10:55 am
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    They aren’t ‘subs’ they are graduate copy editors. They have never been reporters and many aren’t even English grads.

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  • September 23, 2015 at 11:57 am
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    Intriguing. I’m tempted to pick up this week’s Chron just to see if it’s as bad on the inside. It’s dead sad – I work a patch outside Reading but I live in the town (not a city!) and really feel for the remaining staff who are trying to keep it going. I’m very happy at my current paper but from previous experience I know what it’s like to be among the survivors when the axe falls.

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  • September 23, 2015 at 11:58 am
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    That horror pictured on the right…

    Actually, forget it. I’m lost for words.

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  • September 23, 2015 at 12:02 pm
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    Sadly, think all this shows is that Reading can barely sustain one paper, far less two. It is hardly incredible but yes it is unique. And Antiquarian is correct, Trinity did run down the Chronicle then did same to the Post. PS a query, surely editorial must still have seen that wrap front? Or have they given up already?

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  • September 23, 2015 at 12:38 pm
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    > the work outsourced to India and Newsquest’s hubs in Southampton and Newport, Wales.
    >They aren’t ‘subs’ they are graduate copy editors

    As an FYI, It’s subbed in Weymouth.
    I believe they have roughly a 50:50 split of experience subs to trainees.

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  • September 23, 2015 at 12:46 pm
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    Since when was a degree in English a requirement for being a copy/sub editor or a reporter for that matter, Ditched sub?

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  • September 23, 2015 at 1:33 pm
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    But if the reading post was getting 8k print sales a week shouldn’t the chron be asking why its sales lift wasn’t higher? Are we really do desperate that we celebrate just low conversion rates?

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  • September 23, 2015 at 1:45 pm
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    Come on Steve compare apples with apples , lets see a comparison of front page with front page not the Ad Wrap.

    Still might be crap but be fair.

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  • September 23, 2015 at 4:19 pm
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    The comments on this story show an appalling number of mistakes.

    “…to clarify” missed a letter on one of his words, spotted it and immediately added a correction.. Have other contributors become so dismayed about the future of newspapers that they cannot be bothered to read what they have written before posting their comments?

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  • September 24, 2015 at 12:45 am
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    Hey, Tellus, what makes you think …to clarify is a he, might be a she

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  • September 24, 2015 at 8:00 am
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    Just to clarify, the Reading Post was NOT selling 8k copies, it was barely selling 5k, the rest were free pick-ups. The Chronicle team have done brilliantly to convert around half of them to their title and sustain the growth for almost a year. It is a damn sight better conversion than the Sunday tabloids managed when the NOTW closed – and they threw millions in marketing spend at it. Give an apparently beleaguered team some credit

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  • September 24, 2015 at 9:44 am
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    We had a content editor who came fresh from uni with a degree in archaeology.
    He went off to America to work and I believe he’s digging up dinosaur bones in Wyoming or somewhere now.

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  • October 18, 2015 at 3:02 pm
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    All sad, as years ago the Slough Observer was one of the best locals in the UK.

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