Page last updated at 09:30 GMT, Saturday, 17 October 2009 10:30 UK

Internet challenge for newspapers

Printing press
Newspapers in Wales are facing falling circulations

Finding a way to make the internet pay is the biggest challenge facing local newspapers in Wales, according to some industry insiders.

Just 10% of newspaper revenue comes via the internet on average despite their websites being extremely popular.

Newspaper editors are concerned that the "digital generation" expects expensive online content for nothing.

The focus on websites comes at a time when newspapers in Wales are facing declining circulations.

Journalists, editors and academics told BBC Radio Wales business programme Wales@Work that capturing the digital pound was key to the future of newspapers.

The main problem according to Cardiff School of Journalism's Bob Franklin was that if one newspaper stated charging for news, readers would quickly move to another website and get it for free.

It will be very difficult to get people to pay for news
Media Wales chief reporter Martin Shipton

He said newspaper owners had to act in unison.

"The owners have got to hold hands and jump off the cliff together," he said.

South Wales Evening Post editor-in-chief Spencer Feeney said newspapers were not alone in trying to find a way of making digital media sell.

"Unfortunately we seem to have a situation where we have the digital generations, who expect to have content which is expensive to produce but don't expect to pay for it," he said.

Media Wales chief reporter Martin Shipton said he believed it was too late to reverse the trend.

"It was a very big mistake to put all the news content onto the website because it means people don't have to buy the newspaper to read what the journalists have written. It's an enormous source of frustration," he said.

"It will be very difficult to get people to pay for news. People have gone beyond wanting to pay."

Stopped printing

The downturn has hit newspapers hard. Advertising revenue is down as businesses cut back and circulation figures continue to drop.

The Neath Port Talbot Guardian and the Wrexham Chronicle stopped printing earlier this month, and newspaper offices have closed in Ebbw Vale, Aberdare and Blackwood.

Geraint Talfan Davies, former controller of BBC Wales and chair of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, said another problem was the Welsh public did not seem to have the appetite for local newspapers.

"In Scotland there are three million people reading daily newspapers. Of that three million, only about 100,000 are reading newspapers with no Scottish content," he said.

"Whereas in Wales there are something like two million daily newspaper readers and of that two million, 1.76 million, that is 85% of readers, are reading newspapers with no Welsh content whatsoever.

It's becoming much more difficult for the Welsh public to keep informed about their own society
Geraint Talfan Davies, Institute of Welsh Affairs

"It's very striking that almost all the London newspapers run Scottish editions but none of them run editions for Wales.

"Circulation of the Western Mail, which 20 or 30 years ago was around 100,000, is down to the mid 30,000s.

"Commercial radio is very weak in Wales and we have seen the decline of ITV, potentially withdrawing from regional news and regional programmes."

He added it was becoming much more difficult for the Welsh public to keep informed about their own society and, particularly, their own democracy.

But Mr Feeney said the news about newspapers was not all bad.

He was currently taking on reporters and sub-editors for a re-launched edition in Neath, and other groups were bringing out new papers in the English Midlands and Kent.

Wales@Work, BBC Radio Wales, Sunday 18 October, 0630 BST.

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