Will the closure of district office impact Wales' newspaper industry?

Celtic newspapers
Image caption Trinity Mirror announced it would close its district offices in south Wales with a loss of five jobs

"Closing the office down doesn't bode well for the future, that's what I think."

Jayne Isaac spent 37 years reporting for the Glamorgan Gazette from its building in Bridgend, and is worried about the paper's survival.

"Is this the first step towards getting rid of the title altogether?" she asks.

As the paper's parent company, Trinity Mirror, announced this week that the Gazette's office will be one of three to shut, the paper's former reporter in the area is the latest to voice concern at the proposals.

Five jobs will be lost with the closure of the Bridgend office, along with the Merthyr Tydfil and Pontypridd buildings that house staff working on the Merthyr Express, Pontypridd Observer, Rhondda Leader and the Cynon Valley Leader.

The papers themselves are not closing - they will still be printed, and no editorial positions will go.

The remaining staff will be transferred to Media Wales headquarters in Cardiff, or will work from home.

Trinity Mirror also hopes local businesses will allow its journalists to hold regular "surgeries", a chance to interact with the public when potential stories can no longer come knocking.

Declining media

But Jayne Isaac thinks there's no replacement for a newspaper's own shop window, which served her well at the Gazette until she retired in 2006.

"I started there in 1969, it was a different office to the one they've got now. But people have always come in, there's always been a steady procession of people with grievances, and with stories.

"The Gazette is often their last port of call - they've tried the council, they've tried their MP, they've been to Citizens Advice, and then they come to us.

"I think having a presence on the high street is very important, it raises the profile of the paper as well. It makes it an important part of the community."

Politicians, so often reliant on the local press to cover their constituency interests, were among those to protest at the planned office closures.

Labour assembly member Huw Lewis, whose Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney constituency houses one of the offices, tweeted his concern.

"Access to local news vital part of democratic process," he wrote.

Plaid Cymru's Bethan Jenkins AM also shared her criticism of the decision online, tweeting: "Another sad day for Welsh media."

The online platform used for a discussion about the closures is symptomatic of why newspaper owners feel they don't need a physical front door to serve a modern readership.

Image caption The Welsh government said it was concerned at the decision to stop selling the Daily Post in south Wales

It's become increasingly easy for journalists to use the internet to research their stories, and for sources to approach them with information.

And while newspaper circulation figures have fallen steadily over recent years, their online sites have seen a tremendous growth in readership.

According to the latest available figures, WalesOnline - which hosts content printed in the Western Mail, the Glamorgan Gazette and other local papers owned by Media Wales - attracted an average of 1.4 million unique visitors every month in the first half of 2013, an increase of 17.2% on the same period in 2012.

The growth in visitors to online news services has led publishers to invest more in their digital platforms, though it has been a struggle to attract the same advertising revenues that printed newspapers enjoyed in more prosperous times.

And while the financial and editorial focus is now online, publishers are continually reviewing their print operations for areas where savings can be made.

Online content

Last week the Daily Post, which is also owned by Trinity Mirror and based in north Wales, announced it was ending its delivery of papers to south Wales.

The decision made business sense - around 80 copies driven each night to Cardiff - while readers increasingly turned to the paper's online content.

But the Welsh government said it was concerned about the effect this decision would have "on an already declining media presence in Wales."

Assembly members and MPs have debated the merits of support, and even subsidy, for local papers. But should they be sustaining a model with a falling demand, or supporting new ventures such as the local news sites that have sprung up across Wales?

Or perhaps the choice isn't that simple when newspapers continue to survive despite regular prophecies of doom, and online news sites seem to thrive and fail in equal measure.

There have been no easy solutions to the existential crisis that has come to face many newspapers over the past decade. But for some of those who read them, and who write for them, the physical presence of a newspaper is an important symbol for the community it serves.

"There have been countless good stories that have been brought in by someone just coming to the front counter, and asking the receptionist if they can speak to a reporter," Jayne Isaac recalls. "It's as simple as that.

"People come in off the street because they've seen the office. And you will lose that when you lose the office."

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