(Title Image: via Youtube)
Before looking at the state of Welsh journalism in more detail, it’s worth considering precisely how the people of Wales get our news.
There are, as far as I know, no exclusive Welsh figures but it’s safe to say that UK-wide newspapers are probably the most read newspapers in the country.
Circulation figures for UK newspapers have fallen by almost 60% since 2003. According to a 2018 Ofcom study (pdf – p39), the most popular newspapers are the Daily Mail (31%), Metro (which is free – 20% share), The Sun (21%) and the Mail on Sunday (13%). Editorially, they’re mainly right-wing or right-leaning – though Metro is officially neutral.
Also (pdf – p44), people from higher socio-economic groups (so-called ABC1s) are about three times more likely to read a broadsheet newspaper title than a tabloid when compared to lower socio-economic groups (C2DEs).
In the absence of Wales-only figures, it’s hard to determine what the newspaper market looks like here. Anecdotally, tabloid newspapers do tend to sell better in Wales than broadsheets preumably as we have fewer ABC1s. So the market share of the likes of the Mirror, Daily Express, The Sun and Daily Star will likely be higher in Wales compared to the rest of the UK while more mid-market newspapers like the Daily Mail will sell as well here as they do in England.
The situation regarding (so-called) “regional” and local newspapers in Wales is dire.
The figures for the following are taken from releases by the ABC monitoring organisation, but they weren’t consistently published every year and some Welsh titles were featured one year then left out the next (such as the Wrexham Leader – which I was unable to include). It distorts the graph and makes the situation perhaps look a bit worse than it is, but you can see why I called the figures dire.
The circulations for national daily newspapers have echoed the decline in circulations for UK-wide newspapers, falling by about 60% since 2012. As of February 2019, the Daily Post is the most read daily Welsh newspaper even though its sales are restricted to the north. There isn’t a single genuine daily “national” Welsh newspaper; Scotland has at least four, with twice that number of regional/local daily papers.
While the decline in circulations isn’t a surprise, it’s unclear at what point a newspaper simply becomes unviable. The Western Mail will probably circulate less than 10,000 copies a day within a year or two, while the Newport-based South Wales Argus is already rapidly heading towards sub-8,000 copies a day – but seeing as it’s only sold in Gwent, it’s perhaps not as bad a situation as it otherwise could be.
The situation isn’t much better at a local level. The decline in circulations is even sharper than daily national titles and must be even more threatening in terms of viability.
Four local newspapers: Cynon Valley Leader, Gwent Gazette, Pontypridd Observer and Rhondda Leader are all heading towards a sub-1,000 weekly circulation within a year (putting them in the same circulation bracket as Paperau Bro), while the Glamorgan Gazette (Bridgend), Merthyr Express and Caernarfon & Denbigh Herald have lost 70% or more of their readership since 2012.
No newspapers featured in the top 10 news sources in Wales (pdf – p110) and the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday were the only named newspapers to feature in the top 20 (along with generic “local daily newspapers”, which were placed 19th).
I’ll go into the broader implications of this in Parts IV and V, but you can see immediately that the vast majority of people in Wales probably won’t read any Welsh-related news at all via newspapers – online is a different matter and I’ll return to that later.
Over the Radio
According to the Ofcom study (pdf – p35), 44% of adults in the UK consumed news through the radio. Of these, 74% used BBC radio services – though only 42% used BBC radio exclusively.
BBC Radio 2 was the most popular radio station for news with 26% of people using it for that purpose, closely followed by BBC Radio 4 (23%) and BBC Radio 1 (19%).
Only 5% used a national radio station (i.e. BBC Radio Wales), though radio is a bit more popular in Wales compared to the rest of UK (47% of adults consuming news through radio). Despite this, Radio Wales was less popular for news consumption than both BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4. It was also less popular than commercial radio station Heart FM.
While Heart FM generally comes out on top amongst commercial radio stations, Capital FM and Kiss are popular amongst the 16-24 age group. Talksport was significantly more popular amongst men (12% use it for news) than women (2%), while LBC and Smooth Radio were consistently popular across all age groups and socio-economic categories whilst not featuring amongst the top radio station choices overall.
BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4 generally attract an older ABC1 audience, while commercial stations were generally more popular with C2DEs and younger people.
The BBC dominates TV news consumption. According to Ofcom (pdf – p27), BBC News on BBC 1 & 2 made up 67% of viewing hours for news in 2017 – an increase from 58% in 2010. When you include the BBC News Channel, the share of viewing hours increases to 75%.
No other broadcaster comes close, though the proportional share of viewing hours for Sky News (7%), ITV News/ITN (13%) and Channel 4 News (3%) have remained fairly stable albeit with marginal declines.
A key point is that the average number of viewing hours of TV news has decreased from 121 hours in 2010 to 110 hours in 2017 – working out at about 18 minutes of TV news consumption on average a day.
At a Welsh level (pdf – p110), news bulletins on BBC One are used by 68% of adults, while ITV Wales gets a respectable 45%, followed by Sky News (26%) and the BBC News Channel (19%).
BBC Two news (presumably Newsnight) is accessed by just 13% of adults in Wales, closely followed by Channel 4 (12%). S4C isn’t even included (though I don’t know if it’s counted under “Channel 4”), while Channel 5 News is accessed by just 7%.
Even online, the BBC is a major player. In 2018 (pdf – p64), 63% of adults used the BBC news website to access news, compared to 46% who used Google to search for news stories (….which probably still led them to the BBC).
The Guardian does much better online than in print, with 17% of adults using it. This is the same as Mail Online and the Sky News website. Youtube was used by 13%, while 11% used local newspaper websites (presumably including the likes of Wales Online) and 10% used ITV News online.
The BBC website seems proportionally more popular amongst men, higher socio-economic classes and older age groups. Mail Online and Buzzfeed seem proportionally more popular amongst women, while The Guardian and Youtube were more popular amongst younger age groups.
As for social media, according to Ofcom (pdf – p110), Facebook is the third most popular means of accessing news in Wales, with 36% of adults using it for that purpose and 9% seeing it as the single most important source. Twitter is used by just 13% (though only 1% see it as the most important source) – a figure comparable to Channel 4 News – and 7% used WhatsApp, making it as popular as Welsh daily newspapers.
The report (pdf – p48) also suggests that while young people might be more likely to use social media overall, Facebook has a much broader user base with 65% of over-65s using it for news, compared to just 9% using Twitter. The figures for 16-24-year-olds are 75% and 43% for Facebook and Twitter respectively. Snapchat (32%) and Instagram (37%) are almost as popular as Twitter amongst younger age groups.
A key difference (pdf – p50) is that while younger people are more likely to access news from a social media post (51%) than directly from the website of a news organisation (24%) – the numbers flip the other way for the over-65s.
Facebook and Instagram also have a much broader socio-economic base, with almost equal rates of use amongst ABC1s and C2DEs. However, Twitter’s reputation as a bubble for a politically-engaged elite just about bears out with 34% of ABC1s using it for news compared to 29% of C2DEs.
Again, there are other class differences with regard to how social media is used, with ABC1s more likely to get news directly from a news organisation’s website (36% vs 27%) and C2DEs more likely to get news directly from social media (45% vs 36%).
People who use the internet as their primary source of news were also more likely to use multiple sources at the same time (known as “news-snacking”), with people in Wales using on average around 6 (5.7) different sources of news – just below the UK average of 7 sources (6.7).
The BBC has a near-monopoly on broadcast news – It was something of a given, but the BBC remains well out in front in terms of the range and rate of consumption for its news output on TV, radio and online; this is consistent across the UK and isn’t a solely Welsh preserve. While other news organisations do well in one or two areas (The Guardian online, the Daily Mail in print, ITV Wales on local news etc.) there’s very little direct competition to the BBC.
The vast majority of people in Wales probably don’t get their news from Welsh sources despite (paradoxically) wanting more news about Wales – When it comes to newsgathering about Wales (pdf – p116), BBC and ITV are the most important sources; in fact, ITV does much better in Wales in this regard than ITV in the English regions. The third most important source is Facebook (presumably via links to news websites and local news), which has a big chunk of publicly-gathered/sourced news that may or may not be reliable. The Western Mail is only seen as important by 3% and S4C by 4% – the same proportion as Twitter and Wales-based news websites. The demand for quality journalism about Wales is there though, as 86% of people surveyed in Wales said they were quite or very interested in news about their nation – second only to Scotland. If we expect the UK media to fill this gap though, then clearly we’ve been barking up the wrong tree (Part V).
Radio’s role in disseminating news and information is massively under-rated; though there’s a class divide – When people discuss the decline of the media they often neglect the relative popularity of radio and speech-based news (like podcasts). As mentioned, radio is a bit more popular in Wales than the rest of the UK (when you consider how long many of us spend in traffic jams it’s perhaps not a surprise). So while there’s rightly a focus on improving news and portrayals of Wales on television and protecting the print press, radio deserves to be fully part of that conversation too and in some cases it has inherent advantages over print, broadcast and internet (Part VI) – though public radio, which might cover news more seriously and comprehensively, is still perhaps a reserve for professional classes.
TV news is highly trusted but faces more competition for public attention than ever before – Other than magazines, TV is the most trusted medium with 70% of adults finding TV news trustworthy, compared to just 39% for social media (Part IV). When you factor in social media, streaming services and gaming (Part VIII), live broadcast television is facing a major challenge to ensure people keep tuning in. A decline in TV news viewing hours since 2010 or so is a sign that people perhaps want access to quick round-ups rather than lengthy in-depth analysis.
BBC aside, Facebook is probably the single most important source of news in the UK (Part VIII) – While many people may not necessarily trust social media to the same extent as broadcast media, the range of content and range of audiences served by social media at a local and national level – and Facebook in particular – makes it a major player in its own right. This is despite it producing almost none of the content by itself and acting only as a platform – which raises ethical questions (particularly regarding the use of personal data) as well as questions surrounding Facebook’s “gatekeeping” and the subsequent effect on the economics and financial sustainability of online journalism.