As you know following the successful launch of The National Wales in March 2021 New Media Wales changed its focus to the development of a national sound and vision platform for Wales, filling the gap that currently exists in Wales.
That plan has changed. On Wednesday the 31st of August The National Wales ceased publication.
The decision was taken in light of the worsening economic landscape and the rapidly declining financial situation facing Newsquest who we partnered in order to launch the venture.
The business plan for The National was based on growing a subscription base along with generating revenues from commercial activities.
During the first 12 months, subscriptions grew steadily reaching over 800 and generating commercial revenues through advertising and commercial partnerships. The title was on course to become profitable by the end of 2022.
In February following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia things changed, rapidly.
Subscription growth stalled, then started to reverse, by August 2022 subscriptions had fallen back to 640 as the cost of living crisis started to take hold. Commercial revenues fell 200%. The direction of travel was clear.
The National was losing around £3,000 a month and with the economy predicted to deteriorate Newsquest decided they were not in a position to maintain these losses for an indefinite period and the decision to close the title, sooner rather than later.
I was informed of the decision on Monday the 22nd of August, and my involvement with The National and Newsquest came to an end at 5:30 pm on Wednesday the 31st of August.
Hussain Bayoomi who was managing director for Newsquest in South Wales, and who was instrumental in getting Newsquests buy-in to back the venture also left the company following a management reorganisation
Newsquests existing titles in Wales are now run from two bases in England.
The Nationals demise is a symptom of the wider troubles facing the news industry in Wales and further afield.
Reach Plc which publish the Western Mail and Daily Post in Wales has seen its share price collapse from £3.38 a share twelve months ago. Today the share price dipped below 70p a share for the first time ever.
There are a number of factors at play here. News companies have been overly reliant on revenues derived from the sale of physical newspapers and the adverts contained within their pages. They have struggled to pivot from print to digital and Reach Plc’s strategy of deriving revenues from adverts reliant on Page Views has led a charge to the bottom.
News doesn’t pay.
Print sales continue to decline and this decline will accelerate as the cost of living crisis starts kicking in. Couple this with a 100% increase in newsprint costs you can see the challenge these businesses face.
Rin the digital world, real news, news about sewage being pumped into the sea, news about Welsh Government buying Welsh farms for London-based festival organisers or news about malpractice by south Wales police officers doesn’t generate the numbers required to satisfy advertisers and create the revenues required to make profits for shareholders.
What does? The most popular fish and chip shops in Porthcawl, what’s in the middle aisle of Aldi this week and details of the incredible Welsh seaside home on the market for £1,000,000.
So what do the next 18 months have in store for news in Wales?
The future is genuinely grim. As smaller titles become unprofitable and the economic forecast remains negative, they will close never to return. News companies will retreat to their centres of operation and centralise their activities further. Newspapers will become thinner, with less news content before their inevitable disappearance.
Digital news platforms will become “content” platforms, designed to reach as many eyeballs as possible, news content will slide to the bottom of the page before disappearing completely. Journalists will lose their jobs, replaced by “Audience and Content Editors” whose sole job will be to deliver Page Views.
News coverage at a local and national level with wither and global news giants like Mailonline and the BBC will fill the void.
This is a genuine emergency, less news and information at a local and national level is bad for democracy, Welsh citizens will become less well-informed a new generation of voters will grow up not knowing how democracy in Wales works.
We cannot let this happen. And we can’t replace what has been with more of the same. My experience with The National has given me a great deal of knowledge and insight into both the business side and editorial side of running a media business.
I am now being supported by other experienced individuals as we develop a plan to create the media company Wales needs and deserves.
What will it look like?
As I stated previously, we can’t replace what exists now with more of the same. That was the thinking behind the plan to develop a sound and video platform. The loss of The National Wales means we now have to create something bigger, and more innovative and it also needs a different model of ownership.
The partnership with Newsquest was criticised at the time, and I understand why, but it was, at the time the only way of getting The National up and running within the timescales required. Newsquest probably lost around £100,000 in the venture so deserves some praise for taking a punt. It was inevitably market forces that put paid The National, so the new venture needs to ensure it can continue to operate during difficult times.
We have started working With Cwmpas Wales, formerly The Wales Cooperative Centre, on the creation of a Community Benefit Society, this will allow individuals and institutions to buy shares in the company.
The new venture will be owned by you, with its roots planted firmly in Wales.
As a Community Benefit Society, it will be overseen by a board elected by its members and will publish annual reports and accounts ensuring transparency and allowing for members’ voices to be heard.
The service will be staffed by journalists based across the whole of Wales ensuring every part of Wales will be covered. The output will be published in a range of different formats, designed specifically for the platform being published to.
It will collaborate with and support existing independent news and media organisations in Wales, hyperlocals and community radio stations It will operate at a scale that will offer a genuine and better alternative to the current incumbents.
I will outline in more detail next week the structure of the company and how it utilises the platforms available.