There's nothing fishy about becoming a morning paper

THANKS to Jeremy Dear of the NUJ for his comments on the future demise of the Coventry Telegraph as a result of the decision to make the paper available to readers from 6am.

Like all the worst pieces of copy, the most important line was in the last paragraph.

He insists we must provide "quality newspapers people want, at a time they want to read them".

That is precisely what we in Coventry intend to do. We have a quality newspaper, packed with community news and information, no longer reliant on overnight crimes, fires or this morning's court. And we will no longer insist that our readers buy it in the afternoon and read it at night.

We will be there with a bright, entertaining and informative read for everyone at all times of the day, at whatever time they choose to read it. At breakfast, on the bus or the train, in their lunch hour or, for a diminishing number, in the armchair at night.

This has absolutely nothing to do with global Trinity Mirror strategy or cost-cutting. It's all about the success and the future of the Coventry Telegraph.

But let's just spend a moment looking back. I have the unique distinction of editing a daily title on which I have spent most of my career — 33 years, man and boy.

It's been an amazing rollercoaster ride — six editors (including yours truly), twice as many managing directors and five owners including a local family, an American tycoon, a management buyout team and a plc. Just like Mr Dear, they've all had wonderful ideas on how the paper should be run and what the readers want.

But in all this time, one thing has remained constant. Year on year, the sale of the Evening Telegraph has steadily declined.

Picked purely at random, the black and white Evening Telegraph of Monday 1 December 1973 contained 32 pages — 16 pages of news (and not a single "live" page lead), eight pages of features including four of preset colour, and eight pages of classified. It sold more than 90,000 copies.

Most Mondays these days it's around twice that size, with colour on every page. The news is still local, but more comprehensive, and the features have real appeal and are excellently presented. The design is quality.

Today it is a better paper than it has ever been. And I talk with some knowledge of the subject. But its sale is less than 60,000.

So what's to be done? Employ more reporters, photographers and subs? Invest in more pagination? Redesign?

Relaunch? Sack the editor? Or wake up and accept the fact that the world in Coventry has changed?

Back in the 1960s when we sold over 100,000 a day, the city was a boomtown. Tens of thousands of people employed in the motor industry had loads of cash and even more spare time with nothing to do.

Buying a paper on the way home from the factory or office was what everyone did. My dad was among them. You had your dinner and then sat and read the paper. Selling a newspaper must have been a doddle.

But times have changed. And I am convinced that the major contributory factor to the newspaper sales decline has nothing to do with huge publishing companies, or tighter editorial budgets, or an imaginary decline in the quality of local journalism.

It's purely and simply that people just don't have time to read their local paper at night — no matter how damn good it might be.

Fancy spending your Friday evening reading 100 pages of Coventry news and information, including the stories you've heard on radio on the way home? Do me a favour.

That's why selling time (or reading time to be precise) is the key in encouraging sales growth. And that is why Mr Dear is absolutely right. Give people a paper when they want it. That's what we intend to do in Coventry, and we believe it will work.

It's a local paper for local people. It's a unique product in which on-the-day news is no longer the priority.

Last week, on Tuesday, we carried one "live" page lead, on page seven. Five out of six days last week we led the front page with non time-sensitive stories. Instead, we hit our readers with exclusive splashes which could have been published yesterday or tomorrow. They had impact because they were exclusive. They were not today's events, but they were news to our readers. Important news impacting on their lives.

In this sense nothing will change. We will maintain this approach, which I am convinced will endear us to casual buyers and six-day-a-week customers.

October 2 is a historic day for the Coventry Telegraph when it becomes a morning paper. I am proud to be leading this initiative.

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