Have we said goodbye to Wales’s national press?

IT has been a few weeks since veteran journalist and broadcaster Patrick Hannan died.

BBC Wales’s tribute to him brought together the great and the good of Welsh broadcasting and politics, to pay tribute to a man who was a journalist, historian, broadcaster, and writer.

Rhodri Morgan described him as an “extraordinarily talented and witty journalist and broadcaster”. And Helen Mary Jones AM said, “Wales has lost a champion.”

Perhaps the greatest tribute came from a fellow panelist on the Radio 4 game show Round Britain Quiz. Peter Stead, a historian, broadcaster and writer said:

“We do not have a national press in Wales.

“”We have a press that relies on press handouts, on press conferences and telephone calls.

“We do not have a press that analyses, that takes that one step back. So Patrick Hannan, I would argue, in the last 15 years was in fact a one man national press.”

It is some praise for one individual. While I was more accustom to seeing the familiar faces of Jamie Owen, Sian Edwards, and more recently Lucy Owen, beamed into my living room when I was growing up, I do recall hearing Patrick Hannan on the wireless from time-to-time when I visited my grandparents.

As the BBC’s short documentary explained, he was for people of my grandparents’ generation the face they relied on daily to report the stories which mattered to them. From Aberamen, a mining village in the Cynon Valley, he understood how these working class communities operated, and knew what mattered to them in his reports.

So then, according to Stead, Wales no longer has a national press, now that its sole editor, reporter, and writer has died. Where now for Welsh journalism? Stead’s words, if they are to be believed are a damning indictment of the current state of the press in Wales.

Indeed, the landscape is not rosy. The Neath and Port Talbot Guardian’s have stopped printing, jobs have been lost, and those left are having to look for ways to optimise revenue from their internet output.

The Audit Bureau of Circulation reported declining year-on-year sales – again – for the three biggest newspapers in Wales. The Western Mail (32,926), down 11.4%. Cardiff South Wales Echo (39,361), down 11.8%. South Wales Evening Post (46,069), down 10.1%. And as the figures show, the picture in England is no better. The Press Gazette described it as “the worst set of results since the Second World War”.

As a trainee journalist hoping to find a job on a newspaper next summer, it is not encouraging. There are questions about how newspapers will respond to the explosion of online demand for news, and the implications for advertising revenue. Of course, the finances are fundamental if news organisations are to survive – aside from whether the content appears in print or digital form. Revenue is needed to keep the content flowing.

But what about the actual content? What do newspapers in Wales print? I call into the corner shop on my way to lectures in the morning to buy the Western Mail on a daily basis. It is a newspaper which purports to be the national newspaper for Wales. But, I regularly despair at what I see on the front page. Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen talking about a house he has renovated, or news regurgitated from London with a Welsh spin. Originality does not seem to be a high priority.

The emergence of Twitter, and the popularity of blogs and other social networking sites means news and opinion generated by the public across Wales is being published online. It could be asked do we need a national press if this information is readily available for the public to access? I would argue strongly in its favour.

Having this information available online is a brilliant development for journalists because it provides another place for us to find sources and unearth stories. I believe Wales needs a national press who can filter this, and provide us with accurate, fair, and measured professional journalism. As a trainee journalist looking for a job you might not be surprised at this. But there are reasons (other than the personal) which lead me to suggest the necessity of a national press, which has its eye directed firmly on Welsh affairs.

10 years have passed since Wales narrowly voted in favour of a National Assembly. I believe it is essential, particularly as the debate over further transfer of power from Westminster to Cardiff Bay continues, there be a national press in Wales which analyses, takes one step back, and reports on these affairs.

It would have been too great a task even for Patrick Hannan to have covered alone.

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