Belfast Telegraph to drop evening edition, while News Letter may (not) go weekly?

Six weeks ago I posted about the continued decline in the circulation of local newspapers. Amongst the stable of Belfast dailies, the ABC figures for July-December 2011 showed that the Belfast Telegraph had lost 8.1% (4,270 copies) compared to the same period in 2010, and 9.4% (5,548 copies) when compared to the first six months of 2011.

Table showing circulation decline for Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, News Letter and Irish Times - up to date with second half 2011 figures

In fact, when free and discounted copies were taken out of the figures – eg, the copies that you find in hotels, airline lounges and university campuses – the Belfast Telegraph was just 900 copies ahead of its nearest rival, the Irish News.

Tonight, Robert Miller – who chairs the Belfast and District Branch NUJ – has suggested that Belfast Telegraph staff have been told that the evening edition is to be dropped which would just leave the morning edition and perhaps the lunchtime edition (if that survives).

The BBC have subsequently confirmed that the Belfast Telegraph will go down to a single edition from this Friday. Cutting one of the three editions would save on print and distribution costs, but would also leave the Belfast Telegraph devoid of any news that breaks after the 10am copy deadline for the lunchtime edition. If the lunchtime edition goes too – and the Belfast Telegraph becomes a morning only paper (a complete reversal of its evening heritage) – then the savings and job losses will be much higher.

The table below (from the July-December ABC circulation figures) shows that the vast proportion of current Belfast Telegraph sales come from the lunchtime/evening ‘Final’ edition. Switching to the morning will be quite a gamble.

Bel Tel Jul Dec 2011 ABC sales

Across town, the Belfast News Letter is owned by the Johnston Publishing (NI) group, a holding company of Johnston Press which announced today that five of its daily titles in England (Scarborough Evening News, Halifax Courier, Northampton Chronicle and Echo, Peterborough Evening Telegraph and Northants Evening Telegraph) would convert to publishing weekly, while their digital editions (web and app) would be updated “around the clock”.

This “platform neutral” strategy will be rolled out to “all of its 170 paid for titles” with a more detailed strategy update due in their annual results announcement on 25 April. By the end of 2012, the News Letter could be a weekly title.

Together with the planned changes in public sector advertising – which will no longer be duplicated in Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and the News Letter – there will be big changes in the local newspaper industry.

Update – News Letter staff are dismissing the possibility that Johnston Press would take their paper weekly as ‘pure speculation’, pointing out that the English daily papers involved have much smaller circulations than the News Letter.

Update – The allmediascotland blog has learnt that four Johnston Press titles are excluded from the proposed design revamp and relaunch: The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, the Yorkshire Post and the Belfast News Letter.

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  • When I lived there it was simply an evening paper with the first edition hitting the streets around 3 o’clock.

  • Coll Ciotach

    I would have thought the evening edition would be a better bet than a morning edition, perhaps that explains why I am not a media magnate

  • I was also trying to work out which edition made more sense as presumably the morning edition of the Belfast Telegraph would have to compete with (mostly) the News Letter.
    But if the News Letter goes weekly then presumably the morning editin of the Belfast Telegraph could add at least half of the News Letter readership which would make it more viable.
    Realistically the only edition of BT which I am familiar with is the evening edition……as I have not been in Belfast daily since 2005.
    But even then it always struck me as behnd the news. If I bought it because something had happened at lunch time……then even at 5.45pm it was telling me less than I already knew.
    Presumably there is a morning readership for “unionists”……even for death notices. Ghoulish as it seems there is a market for funeral announcements.

  • I’ve updated the post with the last audited sales figures for the Bel Tel. When you remove bulk and free copies, the morning edition was averaging 8,320 daily, while the Final was 31,658. Switching to the morning is a gamble.

  • andnowwhat

    The Tele was good there for a few years but has really gone to pot of late, almost imitating a tabloid. The News Letter even seemed to be broader in it’s agenda to a point where a nationalist could read it without feeling like black man in an Agusta golf club but it has resorted to type with endless unionist outrage headlines and editorials.

    The only thing the print media has to offer is expert analysis that expands upon the news reported elsewhere. Neither paper are capable or willing to do that.

  • Master McGrath

    As I understand it John Press are really an elephant in the print room as they may well be the next location of a newspaper crisis where continuing to publish across the whole breadth of their titles could be put at risk by the whole group being in dire financial peril.
    They have it is said covered their losses by continuing to raise funds and buy new titles on the strength of the overall value of the group – a bit like the same sort of basis of the housing market a few years ago.
    Print media is NOT dead at all but it will not necessarily remain in the same form as it is today tomorrow.
    We live in interesting times financially and newspaper wise, but all of the above is only the most wildest of hearsay, albeit as I understand it from informed insiders.

  • Master McGrath

    My mistake – Johnston and not John Press!!

  • aquifer

    I thought long ago that if the Irish News and News Letter pooled their coverage for an evening edition they could have kicked the Telegraph down the street.

    For the Telegraph to go to a morning paper sounds a bit suicidal.

    Funnily enough I did often despair when trying to read it.

    Maybe studiously ignoring what goes on two hours down the road shrinks the world view and the readership.

  • Once upon a time the Belfast Telegraph was affordable.

  • andnowwhat

    Is not a basic of journalism, who, what, where, when, why? To my uneducated mind, it is the latter where papers only strength lies.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Out of date before they hit the streets.
    Since the introduction of Phoenix Gas,the newspaper industry has taken a hammering !

  • Drumlins Rock

    aquifer, they ignore whats going on 20 min down the road, always too Belfast centric.

    I generally go for the Newletter, but not a regular buyer, strangly if the three were sitting out in a coffee shop I would read the Irish News before the Tele, but never buy it, wheras I occasionally buy the Tele for the supplements or a particular article.

    I suspect there is a small drift to the Newsletter, but not enough to arrested general decline, it is the oldest daily newspaper in the the world or something like that, so a switch to weekly would be a disaster , I would strongly question the speculation Alan has highlighted in BOLD print no less, without any substanciation, could he tell us what his source was for that? lol

    You know “The Irish News Letter” actually has a ring to it! and if they did an orange top edition a green top edition and a white top edition with minor editioral changes & supplements they could be onto a winner in all sectors 🙂

  • Red Lion

    When i delivered the evening Belfast Telegraph in the early 1990’s i rememember the price going up from 24p to 26p. Pretty soon it started leaping in 5 pence jumps.

    The end of the Belfast evening paperboy I presume!!Ah those Christmas tips!

  • BluesJazz

    Well, it once had 2 job supplements, including, on Tuesdays ‘Public Sector Jobfinder’ which sometimes ran to 12 pages. Lucky if they get a page now for 1 year contract posts at £12,000.
    Then there was ‘Homefinder’ , still there plugging away for the last few who think a semi in Dunmurry is worth £150,000 (over 6 times the average wage of those lucky enough to have a job).
    The cars have gone online. Only the deaths left, and Lindy McDowell, beside the campaign to clean up the lagan towpath.

  • Drumlins Rock

    ohh just had a great business idea, 🙂

  • BluesJazz

    It’s the only growing market. Take it to Invest NI.

  • BluesJazz

    Now that the Romanian sellers at crossroads have gone, along with the free packets of jaffa cakes, it really looks like a goner.
    No real sports coverage, The Irish News has GAA and the horses are covered by the 30p Sun.
    Probably a bit of irony in it’s coverage of the Titanic.

  • ayeYerMa

    Aquifer, I suspect giving too much attention to whats going on “2 hours down the road” through ownership from Dublin is the precise reason for the Telegraph’s relative demise.

  • Harry Flashman

    The Tele is a morning paper? Since when? I’ve been away a long time. What eejit came up with that idea? Sure the only reason anyone buys the paper is to see who’s dead.

  • cynic2

    Not dead (yet) just sleeping

  • cynic2

    “ownership from Dublin is the precise reason for the Telegraph’s relative demise”

    Nonsense. Its dying because its utterly c**p. I will open a book on the order of the demise

    First Bel Tel to go freesheet by 2014

    Second News Letter dead by 2015

    I think the Irish News may survive if its aims itself more mid market then ie seeks a few Prod Readers and stops so often genuflecting to the baser electoral instincts of the SDLP

  • cynic2

    “Realistically the only edition of BT which I am familiar with is the evening edition”

    You mean the one that hits the streets at about 11am?

  • cynic2

    ” free packets of jaffa cakes”

    Viral marketing by the Orange Order?

  • cynic2

    “Only the deaths left” …. and have you seen what the BT charges for death notices. Talk about exploitation! Its a scandal

  • Rory Carr

    Online journalism is now clearly in the ascendant as perhaps yesterday’s award of Pulitzer Prozes to two online outlets, The Huffington Post. for a series on wounded US war veterans and the Washington centric, Politico ( for a series of political cartoons) might indicate.

    No prize awardwd to any novel this year however which fits with the mood of an email I sent to a friend yesterday bemoaning the state of the novel recently.

  • aquifer

    Drumlin’s Rock “The Irish News Letter”

    I like it, a lot.

    If they went to an e-newsletter, customised for each reader’s preferences, they could be deadly.

    Readers could tick then Orange, Green etc to have their news tinted to order tee hee. But more importantly AB readers could choose their commercial regional and cultural centres of interest and draw on the content of the locals also.

    Could they write overnight and take East Coast America over coffee and begels?

    Indexing their archives could add value to the news offer, only granting access for those with a current subscription at a maximum of two computers.

    This island has form when it comes to online intelligence.

    You are a Google user, and Google employs thousands of international graduates in Dublin.

  • Comrade Stalin

    You know “The Irish News Letter” actually has a ring to it!

    Jesus Christ give up with the UCUNF thing already.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The Belfast Telegraph has some fine journalists but as a paper I wouldn’t miss it. I don’t think the rot set in recently, it was always a bit mediocre.

    The News Letter and the Irish News are both far superior publications but again I don’t know how they can hang on. They evidently aren’t confident themselves given the noise about the government cutting back on placing advertisements due to circulation.

  • Have to agree about the quality of the Belfast Telegraph …it has been going thru the motions for years….although all local papers carry far too much “agency stuff” to pad out the paper.
    Certainly the Troubles “made” the local newspapers (probably more so with the Irish News which was usually only 8 (sometimes) 6 broadsheet pages in early 1960s. Death notices and Horse Racing being the reason people bought it.
    Not sure that the Internet was solely to blame.
    The Troubles made the papers.
    The Peace Process destroyed them.

  • Always look for the ‘Final’ edition. This is a gamble. Morning is not just crowded by the papers, there is the rolling news channels, Today and Good Morning Ulster, and the other local news outlets. If a story breaks during the day the BT, as with the other mornings, only catch up on the news from the night before. If the BT wants to set a news agenda, which is the only way to make itself relevant (and the morning papers struggle even more) then a 4pm final before the evening news at home is the only way. What they all need to do is work out how people live their lives and work out where a newspaper fits into that.

  • Framer

    The News Letter would not survive as a weekly internet edition. It is a daily newspaper for a particular community that offers local news of the day.
    It is of course, as are all newspapers, undermined by the state subsidised medium – the BBC – which will have a monopoly on news within a decade through its compulsory licence fee financing arrangement.
    Whether you like the BBC or not, or hate MURDOCH, that is the truth that people and government have to wake up to. The licence fee (or poll tax) can only destroy newspapers.
    Giving a proportion of the fee to newspapers is an alternative option but the BBC will ensure it is stillborn. It can do no other as it is entirely self-regarding.

  • leftofcentre

    The problem with the tele is that 90% of its content is generic news that is available elsewhere for free. They seem to run a lot of content from there sister titles, celeb gossip, national news etc.

    Also you have the issue with the tele competing with itself, as it gives most of the content away free on its website. The tele will continue to decline, i can’t see how they can stop the process.

    The irish news will survive as it has unique content (GAA, deaths etc) the problem the irish news has is it digital strategy is completely crap. No website and rubbish ipone/ipad apps.

    It is no exaggeration to say in 10 years time print will be dead and all newspapers will be on screens.

    I was recently on holiday and over half the people where reading books on ereaders. In the space of a few years ereaders have caught on big time.

  • andnowwhat

    FJH hits the nail right on the head. The troubles and the transition to where we are now was a gift to local papers. I’m (just) too young to remember the papers prior to the troubles and would be interested to know what they were like.

    There’s a taste for importing OpEds from GB broadsheets and I really can’t see the point of that. Rather than making the papers look like they have a broad view, it makes them look second class.

    Mind you, at the other end, we have John Burns’s Atticus in the Sunday Times which is truly awful and completely predictable. Now, there’s a journo who firmly belongs in The News Letter

  • Cynic2 It would be a rich irony if the BT’s own demise was contributed to by it’s exorbitant death notice charges. I can recall only two catholic jcontributers in the time I’ve been back here, Malachi O’Dochartaigh and Eamon McCann, neither of whom are nationalist leaning writers.

  • FJH I can remember a headline in the Irish News [which the breadman always brought as we were out in the sticks]. ‘NELSON’S PILLAR BLASTS OFF’ in ’66 but being 11 and with no understanding of the background. It was late 60s before i started noticing what was the difference between the titles. I read archive editions from the early troubles on visits to the newspaper library in Royal Ave. more recently.

  • cynic2

    FJH … I suspect they were deeply boring but this was an era when TV had limited penetration and many still relied on the wireless so the Bel Tel was still a source of real news, not repackaged celebrity pap

  • marksi

    Not only does the Telegraph charge almost £40 for a Family Notice, it then delays online publication of these by 24 hours in order to force people to buy the paper.

    Good business sense or exploitation?

  • Harry Flashman

    “I was recently on holiday and over half the people where reading books on ereaders. In the space of a few years ereaders have caught on big time.”

    I read newspapers online but could never bring myself to read a book on an e-reader, it just doesn’t feel the same. Maybe I’m just odd but for me half the pleasure of reading a book is, er, actually reading, you know, a book.

  • S in DC

    Compared to the papers here in the states, none of the pubs in Belfast update their websites regularly. Bel Tel’s website is barely updated between Saturday AM and Monday AM — I understand they’re trying to protect Sunday Life sales, but the audiences are totally different.

    As a journalist I hate seeing this. Always admired a market the size of Belfast/NI still having three papers, in addition to everything cross border and across the pond.

  • I think this will prove to be an absolute disaster.

    My opinion is that current “evening” buyers (although how you can possibly describe a newspaper whose last edition goes to press at midday as an evening paper) won’t transfer to the morning edition in great numbers. Too many “evening” buyers will already buy a morning paper, and won’t want to get a second morning paper to read precisely the same news.

    I honestly think that the race towards the morning, compared to the early 1990s when the Fourth edition was reintroduced (as an early Sixth) and available from 1pm in Newtownards and the Sixth late was out at 4pm was far better for “today’s news today” – how times change that irrespective of new technology, the last edition goes to press earlier than it ever did – even on a Saturday.