Falling advertising revenue and rising poverty have been blamed for the decision to turn Torquay’s daily Herald Express into a weekly newspaper – with editor Andy Phelan insisting ‘this is not about greed”.
Torquay’s Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders has spoken of his disappointment at losing a daily newspaper but said he understood why the decision was made.
‘I think the reality is that, though circulation is quite high, South Devon is one of the poorest areas of the country and the advertising revenue isn’t there,’he said.
This was confirmed by Phelan, who said that in terms of circulation the Herald Express is one of Northcliffe’s best performing newspapers.
Its most recent ABC figures show an average daily circulation of 21,112, down 3.7 per cent on the previous year. This compares favourably to some of Northcliffe’s flagship titles like the South Wales Evening Post, which was down 6.1 per cent, and the Hull Daily Mail, down 7.3 per cent.
Unlike Hull or South Wales, however, the Torbay economy is heavily dependent on tourism – with around 33 per cent of people employed in the sector – and it lacks major manufacturing industry.
As Phelan points out, tourism is not the most lucrative area for advertising when your readership already lives in the area.
And while it may have a reputation as the ‘English Riviera’, Torbay is actually one of the most economically deprived areas of the UK and has been hit hard by the recession.
A recent report by the Torbay Development Agency on the local economy concluded that the region ‘exhibits symptoms of severe deprivation’and described the situation as ‘daunting”.
Disposable household income, for example, is 86 per cent of the national average, one in ten claim incapacity benefit and an estimated 24 per cent of children live in poverty.
According to government figures it is the 47th most economically deprived out of 354 local authority areas.
Sanders said: ‘If you look at somewhere like Exeter, it’s much more economically vibrant – that’s probably why the [Exeter] Express & Echo can survive with a smaller circulation [17,102].”
He added: ‘The only positive I can think is if becoming a weekly gives them [Herald & Express] the opportunity to catch their breath and investigate things in more detail. That could be the only silver lining.’
Phelan agreed that the newspaper will change its editorial focus – and confirmed that up to half of the paper’s 30 editorial jobs could go – but insisted that the shift to a weekly format was the only viable option.
‘This is not about greed – this is about it not being a sustainable business’he said. ‘The most important thing is there’s a Herald Express going forward.”
He continued: ‘We’ll never stop covering councils, magistrates’ court and crown court.
‘What this paper does well is newsgathering. We have a team of people predominantly from this part of the world, and collectively their contacts are fantastic.
‘In the past we might not have had a chance to revisit things as much we would have liked, so there’ll be more time to look at things in detail, and we’ll still be breaking news on the website.”
He added: ‘The way we look at is, there are not so good weeklies and then there’s the Sunday Times. While we’re not comparing ourselves with the Sunday Times, the point is that we will continue to have robust news coverage.
‘The things that are important as a daily will continue to be important as a weekly.”