Rankin Armstrong to step down as editor of the News Letter this autumn

rankin armstrongRankin Armstrong is stepping down as editor of the News Letter this autumn to take early retirement after 44 years working in NI journalism.

In a statement, Rankin reflected that “it is the right time to move on to a new chapter in my life”.

I am leaving a paper that’s in good health, with a loyal print readership and a growing digital presence. These are exciting times for the business and there is a bright future ahead in the capable hands of a highly dedicated and skilled team of journalists.

During the 1970s he worked on the Armagh Guardian and the Portadown News/Craigavon Times. Rankin has worked for all three main daily papers in Belfast, spending 17 years as a sub-editor with the Belfast Telegraph and another three years across the road as chief sub-editor with the Irish News.

He was seconded to the UU for a year to coordinate the practical journalism module at the launch of the post-graduate Diploma in Newspaper Journalism. Upon joining the News Letter in July 1998 Rankin moved through senior positions at, becoming acting editor in November 2011 when Darwin Templeton left and after an exhaustive search process was appointed editor in September 2012.

Johnston Press’ strategy is “social, local, mobile”. During Rankin’s tenure at the helm of the oldest English language general daily newspaper still in circulation, the paper’s presence online and on tablets has improved. At the same time, the News Letter’s physical circulation has continued to decline, staff numbers have shrunk, and more and more management decisions have moved out of the hands of local editors.

Further changes across Johnston Press titles are expected this autumn which will once again alter editorial and production practices.

With the Belfast Telegraph leaning away from the centre ground and back towards unionism under its new editor Gail Walker, the new editor of the News Letter – a recruitment process is underway – will face plenty of challenges with fewer levers to pull.

Update – Saturday 15th – The News Letter published an article announcing Rankin’s retirement.

, ,

  • Jag

    The latest News Letter’s circulation for H2,2014 showed average daily circulation fell to 17,853 (of which 17,110 were sold at the full cover price). It’s declined from 23,500 in 2011 and is in a downward spiral with ever-diminishing demand leading to threadbare investment in journalism, and these days, it is little more than a compendium of DUP/TUV press statements (all “outraged”, “slamming”, “vile”,”fiascos” by certain “ilks”). Its reporting is so spun out and biased that it is indeed appropriate that Rankin claims today to be leaving the paper “in good health”.

    Its online presence is largely attributable to the wider Johnston Press group pulling it up by the bootstraps.

    Johnston Press pulled out of the Republic last year selling for €10m its stable of titles which it has assembled at an overall cost of €300m in the early 2000s. Wouldn’t surprise me if Johnston tried to flog its NI titles in the near future.

    EDIT: the latest figures for Irish News are 38,581 (of which 38,359 are paid for, tight gits, the Irish News) and Bel Tel 45,905 (29,424 paid for, yes the Bel Tel give away one third of their papers). These figs are for H2,2014, during which time the News Letter’s circulation declined by 8% (not very healthy that !) compared with 4% at Bel Tel and 3% for Irish News.

  • Slater

    The News Letter is vastly more interesting and thoughtful than is portrayed here. Obviously it appeals to various segments of Northern Ireland that Jag has no interest in or time for: farmers, the older person, certain sports, bands, the Orange, local history etc.
    This is on top of providing news and views, rather effectively I think, especially as compared to the dreadful days of the 1990s when it was a cheer leader for the NIO. That nearly obliterated its readership pool.
    Its layout, as is the Belfast Telegraph’s, is exceptionally good. Go and have a look at some papers in England like the Liverpool Echo if you want to see drabness and lack of news.
    Obviously it would be better for some here if newspapers ceased to exist, especially pro-union ones. We would have instead to rely on the BBC NI website which is on the road to becoming a monopoly, and with a point of view as obvious as that of the News Letter.
    And we pay for it on pain of being dragged through the courts.
    Taking pleasure in the demise of newspapers is not edifying. Sadly this is a common view, especially amongst the natterati and those of a certain class which is why the Belfast Telegraph, presumably after market research, has decided to reflect the views of its readers rather than to preach at most
    and turn them off.

  • submariner

    I think the kindest thing that can be said of the news letter is that it’s a Protestant Pravda churning out exactly what it’s readership want to read that reinforces their own prejudices.

  • SDLP supporter

    Haven’t posted for months (waste of time/too busy) but Mr. Armstrong looks like my late friend Eddie McGrady, the former SDLP MP for South Down. Did anyone ever see them in the same room together? Hope Mr Armstrong has a long and happy retirement.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Wow that is grim for the Tele…

  • Granni Trixie

    Don’t often read the NL but when I do I’m impressed by the content and analysis of Sam McBride. Methinks he’s the one to watch.

  • Conor Conneally

    Print media is dying a death. Who buys the local rags anymore? The Belfast Telegraph is a local worst version of the Daily Mail

  • submariner

    The Telegraph never was a great paper but has deteriorated spectacularly under the editorship of the awful Gail Walker

  • Turgon

    I could not agree more. Sam is a very good journalist and political analyst and is also a very nice bloke in any dealings I have had with him.

  • The NL’s layout is identical to *every* other Johnston Press title, using the same set of (bland) templates and masthead style! Though that may be better than the Liverpool Echo …

  • The next set of ABC circulation figures are out shortly and I’ll update the graph http://sluggerotoole.com/2013/02/21/interview-with-noel-doran-as-irish-news-widens-circulation-gap-with-belfast-telegraph/

  • Jag

    Au contraire Slater, I have great interest in farming, and in Northern Ireland it seems to me to be underrepresented in the media. Don’t see how the NL is prominent in addressing that gap though.

    I think it’s condescending to say the NL has a niche in the “old people” market, and I don’t see what differentiates the NL.

    What “certain sports” does the NL specialise in?

    As for the Orange, Prod bands and local history of the activities of the Republican side during the 1969-1998 civil war, I would agree with you, and in that regard, the NL is buoyed by press statements from Jimbo and the Curryman.

  • Jag

    I think the Bel Tel has retained its ability to sell news, you can see it in its headlines especially over the past week. It’s not great, is it, but newspapers are in a death spiral, and there’s declining investment across the board.

    The ABCs should be out this coming week for H1,2015 and we might get a sense of the performance of the Bel Tel under Gail. I think there’ll be a 5% decline for the Irish News (price increases) and the Bel Tel, and a 10% decline at the News Letter.

    I must say that I think the Mirror group is making inroads in the digital news market in Northern Ireland with its belfastlive,co,uk website – it’s colorful, breezy, covers the basics and on occasion has far better pictures and video than its rivals.

  • Croiteir

    Personally I am more interested in what happened to Belfast Fianna Fail which was chaired by Peter Armstrong who I believe was Rankin Armstrong’s son. Anyone want to confirm and/or comment?

  • Nah, Sam’s good, but current deputy editor Ben Lowry is the one to watch if he’s mad enough to allow his hat to be thrown into the ring.

  • Granni Trixie

    By “the one to watch” I did not mean he was a likely contender for editor of NL – rather I meant generally or maybe particularly as a politics presenter on television.

  • Jag

    “Figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) found The Irish News sold 37,418 copies a day on average on the three months to June.

    This represented a 5.82 per cent decline on the same period in 2014.

    However, the actively purchased copies of the Belfast Telegraph fell 7.58 per cent over the period to 34,199 while News Letter experienced a 9.36 per cent decline to 17,361.”


    These are the “paid for”copies sold in Jan-Jun 2015 (not the three months to June, as reported above, cheesh, can’t newspapers do anything right) and the declines are compared to H1,2014.

    The full circulation in H1,2015, including free copies you find in hotels and the like are (with declines from H1,2014 in brackets)

    Bel Tel: 44,141 (-8%)
    Irish News: 37,666(-6%)
    Newsletter: 17,551(-9%)
    Sunday Life: 40,602 (-8%)

    The Irish News increased its price in H1,2015, I think.

    The recession is over, unemployment is near record lows and the industry is declining by an average of 8% per annum. How much longer can it last?