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.
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).
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…
- Within a month of the takeover, the most senior and longstanding Romanes’ bosses departed as their titles were quickly absorbed into Newsquest’s wider publishing divisions in Scotland and southern England.
- In July, seven jobs went at the local unit that used to produce Romanes’ Berkshire titles, the work outsourced to India and Newsquest’s hubs in Southampton and Newport, Wales.
- Earlier this month, Lesley Potter, the Reading Chronicle’s editor, told staff she had decided to leave, with news then emerging that three editor roles were to be replaced by a single editor-in-chief, and that four out of five photographers in Berkshire were set to be axed.
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.
“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:
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.