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The newspaper which put on sales during a pandemic

Posted on: February 18, 2021 by Mariella Brown

It took the Manchester Evening News 150 years to launch a Sunday edition — and now it’s one of the few newspapers in the UK to have increased sales during the Covid pandemic.

The M.E.N on Sunday celebrated its second birthday over the weekend (February 14), and editor-in-chief Darren Thwaites revealed the title has shown growth year-on-year for both years.

Darren (pictured above) said: “Launching a new newspaper in 2019 was rare enough. Many readers had already moved online and the M.E.N still leads that digital charge with the UK’s biggest regional audience.

“It certainly took some imagination to get a business case off the ground that involved ink not algorithms. It’s fortunate our imagination didn’t extend to a dystopian future of national lockdowns or the whole project would have been spiked faster than a bad story.

“The newspaper that started out against all the odds and then faced the unprecedented impact of Covid-19, is now possibly the fastest-growing in the UK.

“Our 2020 average weekly sale is up by 9% against 2019 and retail sales accelerated ever faster through the year, even in the face of lockdowns and regional restrictions. Last week, the trend continued with another 10% increase on the equivalent 2020 sale.

“While our Sunday title is still the baby of our family, its growing popularity with readers has surprised even those with decades of experience in the newspaper sales business.”

One of those surprised is Craig Willetts, Reach’s head of newspaper sales for the Manchester area.

He said: “Sales of newspapers have been incredibly resilient across all our titles despite the many restrictions in place — but the Sunday sale in Manchester is absolutely staggering by any standards.

“It’s fantastic to see there’s such a strong market for local news and sport at the weekend. Even with the various lockdowns and regional restrictions, the M.E.N on Sunday has gone from strength to strength.

“The support and response to the title by customers and the retail trade has helped grow the sale in the most difficult environment. It really seems to have become part of Manchester now as much as our Monday to Saturday titles have over 150 years.”

Darren added: “The success of our Sunday is built on the back of an investment in journalism that has propelled the Manchester Evening News to its position as the UK’s biggest regional news brand.

“The pandemic has reinforced that position with the public turning to trusted, reliable, and locally-relevant content, needing it perhaps more right now than ever before.

“With Westminster so often out of touch with the reality of life outside London, it’s been a timely period in which to have a credible and powerful voice to raise our issues on the national stage.

“Our new paper has already had many appearances on the big politics shows, muscling in against established nationals and giving an authentic picture of life up North that can’t be done so easily from a desk in London.”

For chief reporter Neal Kealing, the Sunday launch provided the team with a chance to showcase in-depth reporting, already discoverable online, in print.

Neal said: “It was a bold move to launch a newspaper in February 2019 given the climate within the industry of year-on-year decline in sales. Covid and lockdown in 2020 could well have ended a short-life for the M.E.N on Sunday.

“But the move has, against the odds, paid off. Mancunians and the wider Greater Manchester audience have an appetite for in-depth reporting and analysis.

“The publication provides space and — being once a week — the time for the stories behind the news to be told.

“The layout of the M.E.N on Sunday is brave — the use of quality images, given room to have an impact, complements well-written, impactful journalism.

“The paper is also, crucially, a platform for the M.E.N to have a voice and scrutinize those in local and national government and the repercussions their policies have on the region,” Neal added.

“But being worthy is not enough. The reason the M.E.N on Sunday is succeeding is because it is put together with flair.”

Darren added: “In recent years, we’ve been very proud of how the Manchester Evening News has emerged as a digital powerhouse. We’ve forged new audiences, developed new skills and invested in great journalism, reaching ever more people.

“That’s all helped to power a rich variety of stories with which to build our newspapers. The craft of print is in selecting, editing and presenting the right mix of those stories to create a unique product every day, one that entertains and informs.

“For those in our industry with ink still running through their veins, it’s a refreshing reminder of the ongoing affection for print.”

This piece first appeared on Behind Local News.