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Weekly which launched ‘local stories’ plea to close after 164 years

A weekly newspaper which recently launched a plea for readers to help fill its pages with “local stories” is to close after circulation dropped to below 550.

HTFP reported last month how The Buteman, which serves the Scottish island of Bute and is run by JPIMedia staff based in Edinburgh, had called for the “community’s support” in an online post in which the paper noted it no longer had a reporter based on patch.

Now it has been confirmed that the title, first published on 13 December 1854, will cease publication, with its final issue coming out in the week commencing 17 June.

JPIMedia has declined to comment on the reasons for the closure, but HTFP understands the paper’s circulation figures have dropped below 550 and that the company believes the title is no longer sustainable.

Bute new

The last time it was audited in 2018 the circulation stood at 730, while the population of the Isle of Bute stood at 6,144 as of 2017.

Its closure comes less than a year after Bute was the scene of one of the biggest news stories of 2018, when six-year-old Alesha MacPhail was abducted, raped and murdered while visiting her grandparents on the island.

No jobs will be lost as a result of The Buteman’s closure. Its sole reporter, Kevin Quinn, and its editor, Janet Bee, are both based in Edinburgh on the opposite side of Scotland from the West Coast island.

Kevin also works on JPIMedia sister weekly the Midlothian Advertiser, which covers the area south of Edinburgh, while Janet oversees 21 other titles in her role as the company’s Scottish weeklies editor.

In 2017, HTFP reported how an Argyll and Bute councillor had organised a public meeting designed to pressure JPIMedia predecessor Johnston Press into increasing the number of local news pages in The Buteman.

The meeting was prompted by the departure of the paper’s then island-based reporter, with Cllr Robert MacIntyre claiming that only around four pages were devoted to local news each week with the rest of the 24-page paper filled with content from JP’s other Scottish titles.

JP issued a statement reassuring islanders that The Buteman was being produced with “support from other members of our editorial teams” and the vacant island-based reporter role was subsequently filled.

However, a later JP restructure saw the island-based role axed, at which point management of The Buteman moved entirely to Edinburgh.

14 comments

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  • June 4, 2019 at 8:50 am
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    Typical JP/JPI. Everything they touch turns to dust. Before JP took over my local paper had a circulation of 11K, now it’s less than 3K. Of course they blame everything other than themselves. Bad management and greed and chasing the digital dragon.

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  • June 4, 2019 at 9:20 am
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    Could the title not be ‘gifted’ to the local community if any local was willing to keep it going?

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  • June 4, 2019 at 10:41 am
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    Just so sad to see such a long-established paper close. It was only selling to about one in 10 of the population. Over to the Mighty Quinn and the Busy Bee.

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  • June 4, 2019 at 10:55 am
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    I might be wrong but I think if The Buteman were taken over by a small team of local journalists, photographers and sales staff based in the area and were happy to have a modest wage (to start) and gave its readers stories picked up in the traditional ways then the paper would be warmly welcomed by locals once it had proved itself a local paper run by and for local people!

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  • June 4, 2019 at 11:30 am
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    Wasn’t it selling 3,000 copies a week in 2009? A drop from 3,000 to 550 in ten years suggests it no longer provides what local people want. Hopefully someone on the island will launch a replacement title or perhaps the Dunoon Observer will stretch its wings?

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  • June 4, 2019 at 11:32 am
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    I was the island-based reporter who left in 2017.

    Having started at the title in 2010 as a trainee reporter working as part of a brilliant team of five (with four out of five staff – including myself – born and raised on Bute), I was to be the sole staff member working there by 2016 due to compulsory and voluntary redundancy. It was the most stressful and upsetting experience of my working career.

    I was left to handle reader and advertiser complaints (of which there were many due to the imposed ‘shared content’ and reduced local news) but had zero editorial control. Basically I was doing all the s**t jobs an editor has to do but with none of the decision-making responsibility the role carries.

    On one particularly stressful day – after months of evening and weekend overtime with no additional pay and unable to take time in lieu (because surprise, surprise…there was no-one to cover for me!) I had a frank discussion with the then-divisional head of content by phone (she was based in Fife). While sympathetic and kind, her suggestion was to “take the afternoon off – go to the cinema or something”.

    At that point I started my job search and never looked back.

    I’m not upset at what’s become of my old (and hometown) newspaper. I’m livid. The fact the publishers issued calls for the “community’s support” is laughable. Johnston Press – you had Bute’s support ten years ago but you chose to ignore the newspaper’s staff on the ground, its readers and faithful advertisers. I have zero sympathy for your self-made plight.

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  • June 4, 2019 at 12:03 pm
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    One of the best posts ever on this site by Island Reporter.
    Written from the heart, searingly honest and a perfect summary of the constraints that journalists have to tolerate these days (what’s left of them).
    I only wish the writer could have named and shamed the unthinking thicko who said take the afternoon off or go to the cinema as a means of relieving the pressure (heartfelt thanks to the Human Resources department for that one).
    The person concerned sounds typical of the ‘management’ that ‘run’ (into the ground) newspapers like those of JPI.

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  • June 4, 2019 at 12:13 pm
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    A great shame and awful management – many Johnston papers ceased be ‘local’ in any meaningful sense some time ago. Did The Buteman still get public notice ads, eg from the council, do we know? The Dunoon Observer stepping in would be a good idea if possible.
    Where next? There are several other weeklies owned by this nunchuck’s in urial Scotland which haven’t dared publish their circulation for a while now.

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  • June 4, 2019 at 12:21 pm
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    Well said @Disgruntled Toggy. I’ve been saying for years… If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it! JP et Al have been trying to monetise digital for over 10 years now and are still no nearer. If they’d stop creating competition for their own papers by giving news away free on their dismal drab websites an targeted resources into producing good quality papers with local reporters and local photographers covering local stories and lpcal events then they might do a lot better. Websites should only be for the promotion of that week’s paper and some limited breaking news with ‘full story and pictures in Friday’ s paper’. Weekly papers need to be re-staffed and stand up for printed news. Make it the only option.

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  • June 4, 2019 at 2:55 pm
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    This is sad given the recent sales successes of smaller, community newspapers. These papers tend to be part of the community and run by a couple of enthusiasts who devote more than a 9 to 5 contribution to the business (advertising and editorial). Interesting to compare the fortunes of the newspapers serving two neighbouring islands. The Arran Banner (Arran population 5,000) was named the best performing weekly paid-for in Scotland in 2017 and second in the whole of the UK. It’s sales are around 2,600. Two years later The Buteman (Bute population 7,000) is closing with sales of just over 500. The one difference is the Banner has maintained a very experienced editorial team in situ. I don’t think you can fool the readers all of the time.

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  • June 5, 2019 at 1:14 pm
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    “The Buteman, which serves the Scottish island of Bute and is run by JPIMedia staff based in Edinburgh”

    Well, THERE’S YOUR PROBLEM!

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  • June 5, 2019 at 3:15 pm
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    has JPI set a record for distance reporting? to think they once boasted “Life is Local”. Not any more.

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  • June 6, 2019 at 10:57 am
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    Erm, Drop the Dead Digital Horse … what about those companies which did not invest in digital to try and keep readers in print, and went bust because readers in print stopped buying print? Or the ones which had to sell up to bigger publishers? Always sad to see papers close, but burying head in sand isn’t going to help

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