London hit, but weeklies decline more slowly than evenings

The once buoyant paid-for weekly newspaper sector again declined in the first six months of this year — but at a much slower rate than the regional evenings.

Overall, the market shrank by 2.3 per cent year on year, from 5,024,020 copies a week to 4,909,345.

But around one in four of the UK's 400-odd local weeklies managed to put on sales year on year — a far better performance than the dailies.

London was particularly badly hit, with none of its 22 paid-for titles increasing sales. The Islington Gazette series fared best, falling 0.3 per cent year on year, to 11,843. The East London Advertiser had the biggest drop, losing almost a fifth of its circulation, down 19.4 per cent to 10,194.

The biggest increase in the weekly sector came at the Tyrone Herald in Northern Ireland, up by 37.4 per cent year on year to 5,454.

Herald editor Maurice Kennedy said: "There's a strong East/West divide in Tyrone. We're the first paper in Tyrone that I'm aware of that's tried with some success to bridge the geographical division of the county."

He added: "Content wise, we come out on a Monday so we try to reflect on the weekend and that's not just sport, but socially. It's a light-hearted, youthful approach that we take. We have adapted as we've seen what way the readership has gone.

"But I would say the way we have been successful is how we've capitalised on the market that maybe previously might not have been buying the mainstream papers."

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland, Johnston Press-owned Derry on Monday appeared to be losing its circulation battle with Derry News, with sales down 25.1 per cent to 1,753.

Derry News, bought in the last month by a consortium of River Media and The Irish News, has grown 28.8 per cent to 4,890. Both Derry weeklies launched two years ago.

Daniel Browne, "launch director" of the Derry News, said: "We have started doing a lot of lifestyle stuff, a lot of local fashion and property. We have a fairly snappy tabloid style and an excellent team, and it's no surprise to me that we've seen this dramatic growth."

Derry Journal group editor Tom Brennan said: "Regional press is still a very good proposition. We supply a very local market with very local content and no one else can get it or give it in the same quality that we give it. We're not under pressure from TV and radio, but electronic media — internet and text messaging — are certainly things we need to work with and embrace."

In Scotland, nine of the 40 weeklies increased sales, with the biggest growth at Orkney Today, which was up 5.3 per cent to 6,454.

Orkney Today editor John Ross Scott said: "Circulation is steadily rising, but there'll obviously be a certain point in the next six months when we won't keep going up, because there's only a certain amount you can go up on an island. We try to be pro-Orkney and campaigning on issues such as renewable energy sources, which are a huge thing for us.

"While scandal probably sells better in cities, we've found that positive news sells, and that campaigning papers are making a real impact, especially in rural areas."

The Rye and Battle Observer in East Sussex has shown consistent growth in recent years, and was one of a number to prove there is still a strong market for ultra local news. This time it was up 1 per cent to 6,393.

The Long Eaton Advertiser in Nottinghamshire, rose 5.4 per cent year on year to 5,433.

Editor David Godsall said: "I was born in the area so we really understand what the big issues are locally. We've busied up the front end of the paper, we're made it a lot more sound-bitey with little articles to grab people's attention and make it look a lot livelier.

"We're moved away from council political angles and gone for the local hard news issues such as crime, and really good local pictures so people can identify with it more."

The Exmouth Journal enjoyed a rise of 5.9 year on year. Group editor for Archant Devon, Phil Griffin, who took charge of the paper in February, said one key was breaking the district down into micro-areas and concentrating on a personalising stories. "As a result of the changes we've made we had a lot more letters. So it's a kind of interactivity and it's self-perpetuating because people start getting more interested in what's going on in the town." The paper has also started to include more pictures of young people rather than old people, and targeted women in its research.

"Women seem to be the main buyers of weeklies and we wanted to find out what they wanted to see," said Griffin.

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