The battle for Welsh eyes intensifies

Posted on: March 2, 2021 by admin

Two new national websites, another celebrating enough subscribers to expand and the country’s best-known national news brand embarking on new editions and recruiting too — journalism in Wales has suddenly become a lot more competitive…

For almost as long as there has been a devolved government in Wales, there has been a constant hum that Wales doesn’t get the journalistic attention it deserves.

Yet in the space of two weeks, two new websites for Wales have launched, another has announced its first full-time editor on the back of subscriber growth, while the publisher responsible for the National Newspaper of Wales, the Western Mail, is doubling down on more local news for its main online brand, WalesOnline.

So what’s going on? Perhaps the best place to start is by looking at what is behind the launch of The National for Wales, operated by Newsquest in conjunction Welsh media consultant Huw Marshall.

“Giving Wales what Scotland has”

The argument put forward by Gavin Thompson, editor of the Argus in Newport, and also the editor of the National for Wales, is that compared to Scotland, devolved Wales deserves a more diverse media.

It will appear on shop shelves for a launch edition today — St David’s Day — but its primary focus will be online, and with attracting paying subscribers to its digital service.

Writing for Behind Local News in February, Gavin said: “There’s a strong local media, with Newsquest, Reach, Tindle and others publishing trusted local and regional titles. But when compared with Scotland — where there is The Herald and The National (both Newsquest titles), plus the Daily Record, the Scotsman, Sunday Post and more, and where even the English-based nationals such as the Sun, Daily Mail and Times have strong Scottish editions — Wales is poorly served.

“This has never been clearer than throughout the coronavirus pandemic, where Wales has often plotted a different course to England yet many here take their news from English sources.”

Although the new title shares its name with Scottish stablemate The National, the Welsh publication won’t be taking a pro-independence position, nor will it publish every day in print, focusing instead on growing a digital audience.

Equally, the origins of the National for Wales are very different too. Huw Marshall, a former head of digital at S4C, has been working for several years to try and launch a new news service in Wales, leading several fundraising drives to support his work, before forming his partnership with Newsquest.

Writing on his New Media Wales website, Huw said: “As has been clear throughout my role was to make a national news service for Wales, one that discusses news, current affairs, business and economy, arts and culture and the environment and current affairs from a Welsh perspective a reality.

“I have fulfilled that part. I will have no editorial input, an independent editorial board representing Wales in 2021 is being assembled, I won’t be running it, my role now will be to support the 50+ team of new and existing Newsquest journalists in Wales create video content that can turn deliver their stories succinctly and with impact.

“Newsquest allows the service to benefit from existing digital infrastructure, ensuring a secure service, legal advice and employment support. Newsquest is investing a substantial amount themselves; they are paying for the 4 new journalistic posts and their “in-kind” support would cost well into seven figures if we were setting up from scratch. This at a time when the news industry is facing substantial falls in revenues due to the pandemic.

“This is just the beginning, the more subscribers we attract, the more we can invest in the service.”

Gavin added: “For me as editor and our audience and content editor Michael Sweet and reporters Gareth Axenderrie and Rachel Nurse, this is a hugely exciting project to be involved in.

“We want to provide a national news service for all of Wales, one that engages and informs with a strong focus on politics and policy in the run up to the Senedd elections in May, then, as we grow, more coverage of under-reported areas such as culture and the environment.

“Is the reason this doesn’t already exist because no one wants it? We’ll find out on March 1.”

Hark, the Herald, A National News service brings….

It won’t be alone in offering a national service for the whole of Wales.

Last week, Herald.Wales went live, a national website from the Pembrokeshire Herald. It, currently, is making no pitch for subscribers.

Press Gazette reported on Friday that the new Herald.Wales website had created 10 new jobs, in addition to 20 roles already at Herald News UK.

Its political editor, Jon Coles, told Press Gazette: “Launching a national news platform is something we’ve been thinking of for two years.

“The pandemic and lockdowns made us put the project on pause. Despite Covid-19, our print title, The Pembrokeshire Herald, has bucked the trend of shrinking circulation and that’s encouraged us to take this next step.”

Ahead in the subscriber stakes is…

Then there’s Nation.Cymru, launched in 2017 and running with the strapline ‘a news service by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales.’

Last week, the website announced Gareth Ceidiog Hughes was to become editor after paying subscribers to the site topped 800.

Gareth said: “I’m thrilled to be part of Nation.Cymru’s journey at such an exciting time.

“Since its inception, the site has shone a light on subjects that were often overlooked and has given a voice to those who previously went unheard.

“It has already helped change the conversation in Wales, and over the coming months and years, and we will be doing even more.”

Up until now, founder Ifan Morgan Jones has been the editor of the site, which receives a £20,000 grant from the Welsh Books Council in addition to subscriber revenue.

Nation.Cymru’s founder Ifan Morgan Jones, who has been the editor of the site for four years since its launch in 2017, said: “Since it launched in 2017 Nation.Cymru has grown at a tremendous pace.

“Our audience has grown six-fold in the last year and that increased demand for content meant it could no longer be sustained as a side project on top of my full time work as a lecturer in journalism at Bangor University.

“The aim when we set up Nation.Cymru was a truly national news site by the people of Wales and for the people of Wales.

“We’re not for profit, which means that every penny is invested back into the site rather than going to shareholders. We’re also a fully independent company, not owned by a larger conglomerate that can tell us what to do.

“In the digital age however there’s no good reason why Wales can’t have one, or multiple news services, and I hope Nation.Cymru played a part in demonstrating that.”

And for WalesOnline and the Western Mail?

But for all the talk of Wales needing a National news service, what of the Western Mail, long regarded as the National Newspaper of Wales — a statement it proudly makes on its masthead?

The Western Mail’s home online, WalesOnline, is one of the best-read non-London news websites in the UK, and by some distance the best-read Welsh-based news site.

While other publishers are making much of having a ‘one nation’ approach for digital audiences, publisher Reach operates both WalesOnline, and also NorthWalesLive, the online home of the Daily Post in North Wales.

Stories are regularly shared between North WalesLive and WalesOnline, ensuring coverage from across Wales on both sites, reflecting the interests of readers.

While much is being made about the race to join the Western Mail as a national new brand for Wales, WalesOnline has itself been digging deeper into local news.

WalesOnline already has dedicated in-site brands for Cardiff, Swansea and Newport

Last month, publisher Reach confirmed five new roles were being created at WalesOnline, with a focus on more local coverage of Swansea, Cardiff and Valley communities.

The move comes after the successful launch of NewportOnline last year, which saw a team of three begin covering the city which had traditionally been a stronghold for the South Wales Argus.

Last Monday, the Western Mail rolled out an edition dedicated to Newport.

Western Mail editor Catrin Pascoe said, citing Jicreg audience data: “Thanks to our coverage of Newport through our new NewportOnline brand, WalesOnline has become the city’s best-read digital news platform.

“And now we want to reflect and serve that readership in print with a new daily special edition of the Western Mail.”

It is also aiming to bring its political coverage to a new audience too, via the launch of The Wales Agenda, a daily newsletter featuring the work of its agenda editors and political-editor-at-large, Martin Shipton.

WalesOnline senior editor Steffan Rhys said: “This is where you’ll find the best of WalesOnline’s coverage of the issues which affect all our lives in Wales, curated and sent to your inbox each day.

“it will feature the best and most important work of our politics, health, education, current affairs and local democracy specialists and be a comprehensive daily briefing about the most important stories in Welsh public life.

“Now more than ever this sort of journalism matters and we want you to be able to access it all in one place with one click.”

Those at the Senedd who have long demanded greater coverage of Welsh life are about to get what they wished for.

This article first appeared on Behind Local News.