Why the sixth (fifth, fourth, third and second) edition(s) of the Belfast Telegraph had to go…

I want to come back to the issue of newspapers and the problem of staffing good product in a highly contested digital age, particular in the wake of the recent discussion on Hearts and Minds. But in the meantime, I think it’s appropriate to quote one of Squinter’s best column’s of recent times, which described precisely the pain inflicted by the internet on the news paper industry

The Tele was an indispensable part of every punter’s toolkit in the 60s and 70s for the sole reason that it had the late racing results in blue ink down a single column. And late results they were, certainly well into late afternoon and approaching teatime. It’s one of the great paradoxes of our time that as technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, so the ability of daily newspapers to get in late news has receded alarmingly. These days you don’t get the result of the first race at Chepstow, never mind the 4.25.

Way back then, Squinter’s da would get home after a hard day behind the wheel of his artic, the Tele under his arm. Upstairs he’d go to the bathroom where he’d roll his sleeves up to reveal the pro driver’s suntan – right arm nut brown, left arm chalk white – and he’d wash and scrub his hands and forearms with the fussy deliberation of a surgeon preparing for theatre.

Over his dinner he’d study those blue ink racing results with the silent absorption of a cleric reading scripture. Which is why there was always a Tele in the house – and if Squinter was too young to fully appreciate the import of the late news on the front page, he avidly followed the misadventures of a roly-poly misfit in the cartoon strip More Fun With Bunion.

I have to confess that for some reason, even though I know the BelTel has been a morning paper (on Saturdays at first) for most of the time Slugger’s been in existence, I often forget to buy it thinking, I’ll pick it up after twelve, which I invariably forget to do.

In part it’s because it is no longer the public occasion on the street it once was. BelTel vans no longer drop bundles of late news to news hungry consumers all over the city and beyond. But it’s also because – as Squinter illustrates out so poignantly – there is no real incentive to pick up late breaking news in print any more.

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  • I can’t believe that the Tele are missing a huge trick. If they must go to a single edition, then go back to an evening edition only.

    Forget about the traditionalist cry of “That’s the way it always was”, but look at it from a business perspective. A morning edition will be in direct competition with the Irish News and Newsletter. Customers will buy one of the three papers in the morning and that’s it – the morning market will be diluted further.

    However, an evening edition does not compete with the mornings. People will buy the IN or NL, and many of them will ALSO buy the BT in the evening. That’s on top of the evening faithful.

    I really don’t understand why they want to be a morning paper in the current market.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Probably because Belfast Telegraph make a lot of money not from sales but from the advertising returns gained from their handouts to university students and other public gathering places like bowling alleys.

  • cynic2

    I suspect its because the culture is that mobile workers now buy papers in the morning on the way to work – along with sandwiches, cigarettes etc. In the evening they are just focused on getting home so unless you go for street sellers at bus stops and in the road you don’t get to the market. The Bel Tel tried selling at the traffic lights but clearly it just didn’t work – it is a dying market

  • On the other hand, sales in the morning are very poor, for the reasons Stephen has given.

    I think it’s a terrible idea, even worse than when they brought the Final edition forward to 1pm, only half an hour after the lunchtime edition came out when it was reintroduced in the 1990s. In addition, I’m only too aware that the content barely changes apart from the death notices and the front page from morning edition to last edition, simply because going to press at about noon (if that late) gives you relatively little new material to print compared to the previous night.

    Those who bought two papers a day, one in the morning and one at night, will be less likely to bother now. If the Tele intends to continue to rely on advertising to pay for the print edition, they may be in trouble if this move reduces their circulation.

  • ayeYerMa

    Cynic2, are many people really buying more papers in the morning on the way to work? I suspect if many are like me they’d be more concerned about getting to work on time in the morning. In the evening surely people have more time and don’t have to rush as much?

    Indeed, Stephen Barnes, the BT really don’t seem to be taking into account the cannibalism factor. IMO, not only will this be a bad move for them, but a bad move for all our local papers.

  • aquifer

    “(I) followed the misadventures of a roly-poly misfit in the cartoon strip More Fun With Bunion”

    That’s it. The Telegraph does not have a sense of humour any more. Too few cartoons.

    It must be a very sick publication with no expectation of a future readership.

    Lets continue to avoid it and maybe it will go away. Finally.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I suspect its because the culture is that mobile workers now buy papers in the morning on the way to work – along with sandwiches, cigarettes etc.

    To hell with that, I read through the headlines on the Guardian and the BBC news on my phone. Why would I buy a paper ? Especially not the Tele.

  • CS I expect the number crunchers in the Tele office, studying sales figures since their titanic celebrations will find their readership especially in the west will have diminished even further. But they’ll have to take that on the chin, on top of their general decline.

  • First morning competition is not just NL or IN, but the Sun and Mirror which have far higher sales than any of the three. And the rest.

    The problem is probably distribution. It would be dedicated BT distribution for the late, whereas in the morning the cost would be less with the rest. Would admit to seeking out the ‘Final’ and never buying other edition – because the early news would have already rolled. So it would be a summary of the day or detail on the late news of the day. There will now be absolutely no reason to buy a BT.

  • Framer

    As stated previously, and nobody either listens or can comprehend – more likely the latter – when all the newspapers are gone and that will be within a decade, the sole source of news here will be the BBC on the internet.
    The BBC is a statist medium paid for by a compulsory levy – on pain of imprisonment – and unconsciously monopolistic which is why it is so dedicated to seeing off Murdoch. It is therefore unstoppable.
    Sorry to bring difficult news however it is not as if the Beeb actually makes that many good programmes despite its 7,000 journalists. But then nor did Pravda.

  • Belfastconfetti

    The Telegraph has gone badly down hill over the past decade in quality as well as in terms of sales. It doesn’t seem impossible to me that it will end up as a heavily modified northern edition of the Indo, a much better ‘paper in almost every way.

  • Harry Flashman

    It’s alright assuming that newspapers will disappear to be replaced online but this isn’t actually assured by any means.

    Newspapers’ online departments are tiny non-profit making adjuncts to the main print editions, like a symbiotic insect feeding off its host. If the actual print newspapers go tits up there simply will not be the revenue or manpower to support the online versions.

    Even Murdoch of the deep pockets retreated back to pay-per-view on his titles to try and make some money from his online editions. He may well have made a judicious move that will be followed by others because most of his competitors actually want him to succeed as they want to follow suit.

    It will be very interesting to see what replaces the print newspapers, it certainly will not simply be a continuation of their current online editions.

  • fourwinds

    Surely alot of customers still get a paper delivered in the evening to read after work. I’d say some of that business would go if the Tele switched to a morning only edition.

    I still remember lugging that paper bag around after school…

  • HF. The interesting thing about the end of the papers here will be whether their community-bias versions of the news would then shift to the broadcast news editors or simply fade away. Some would say it’s already there also, and deeply unionist tinged to judge from the wall to wall celebration of the shipyard.

  • FuturePhysicist

    The BBC is a statist medium paid for by a compulsory levy – on pain of imprisonment – and unconsciously monopolistic which is why it is so dedicated to seeing off Murdoch. It is therefore unstoppable.

    Doesn’t the fact that the papers here are so utterly reliant on public sector advertising, to the cost of 20% of their cumulative workforce make themselves “statist”?

    It’s helpful in my opinion that free media and state media are reflective of our society, we have a mixed economy, why is a mixed press such a bad thing?

  • FP Except that ‘mixed’ doesn’t quite cover it.

  • andnowwhat

    To address Framer’s conflict of interest re.the BBC, one need only look at how they pulled the government line during the Bahrain GP. On the other hand, Sky were very scathing.

    On the topic at hand, as has been said, the Tele is doing the exact opposite of what should be prescribed. As I’ve said before, a paper’s strength is in analysis which does not need a rush to the morning news stand. Why do the Tele think people should spend 70p on, what is by the time the Tele comes out, old news. I think they should also go back to a later publishing time to bring back the unique profile of the Tele. Mid day is a blur with morning papers