John McLellan: Oldham title latest victim of print pressures
Owned by family firm Hirst, Kidd and Rennie, the Chronicle was one of the very few remaining independently-owned dailies, Carlisle’s News & Star being another, and the fact it went under while still selling 6,400 copies a night shows how hard it is for small dailies to survive without the support of an umbrella organisation.
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It’s unlikely that the Paisley Daily Express, with 4,720 sales according to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulation figures, would be a going concern were it not part of the Media Scotland/Trinity Mirror stable of titles based in the Daily Record’s Central Quay hub in Glasgow.
The surprise is not so much that the Oldham Evening Chronicle couldn’t carry on as a daily, but that it had no future as a weekly – hard to believe in a borough with a population of 230,000. With more than 6,000 sales to aim for, and the potential for slashing distribution and production costs, its problems must have run deep for going weekly to be unviable.
Cambridge (population 124,000) not only sustains the daily Cambridge News but has also recently seen the successful launch of the weekly Cambridge Independent by the Illife family, who once owned the News before it became part of Trinity Mirror.
Johnston Press – owner of The Scotsman – has turned five of its dailies, including the Scarborough News (borough population 61,000) and Northampton Chronicle (population 212,000), into weeklies, as did the Northcliffe group with its Herald Express in Torquay which serves the 130,000 people of Torbay.
The Oldham Evening Chronicle’s biggest problem was a heavy pension liability, which a weekly with heavily reduced operational costs but reduced revenue could not sustain. It put off potential suitors but starting afresh under the Chronicle brand with no pension liabilities, fewer staff, slashed costs and a market of nearly a quarter of a million people looks a lot more promising.
Add the efficiencies a bigger owner can offer and news publishing in Oldham begins to look attractive, particularly for Trinity Mirror, which already owns the Manchester Evening News and Rochdale Observer.
What isn’t changing is the damage done to local advertising by Facebook, Google and Amazon. Good quality news, analysis and comment are the bedrock and maybe the Cambridge Independent’s mixture of quality, feature-driven editorial and magazine-style production point the way. All it needs is a newsy website and it might be onto something.
• John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor