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August 31, 2022updated 07 Nov 2023 11:27am

Newsquest closes The National Wales amid cost of living crisis and BBC competition

By Bron Maher

Newsquest is closing its news website for Wales, The National, 18 months after it launched.

Its regional editor said the site had become “unsustainable” following subscription declines and claimed competition from free news providers including the BBC had stymied growth attempts.

Gavin Thompson, who served both as The National Wales’ regional editor and editor of the South Wales Argus, announced in an article on Wednesday that it was to be the site’s final day in operation.

In the article, Thompson hailed The National for having “covered issues few others cared about and told stories no one else would”.

Press Gazette understands there is expected to be one redundancy because of the closure. Newsquest’s Welsh-language national news site Corgi Cymru will continue to publish.

The National Wales launched as a website on 1 March 2021 – St David’s Day – shortly after rival Herald News UK launched its own Wales-wide effort, Newsquest’s venture intended to cover Welsh national news from a Welsh perspective and so offer an alternative to coverage by England-based publications.

Six weeks after launch The National Wales established a weekly newspaper on the back of “an overwhelming positive response” to its promotional pop-up print runs, but the paper edition was shuttered after seven months, with the title saying it wanted to focus its efforts on getting digital subscriptions.

“The National was created to be primarily a subscriptions site,” Thompson wrote in his farewell article. “Not being solely dependent on big audiences needed for advertising would give us space to tell important, sometimes complex stories…

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“Sadly, this year we’ve seen subscriptions fall. It’s hard for everyone right now and we understand that. But it means the site has become unsustainable.”

Huw Marshall, who was until its closure publisher of The National Wales, wrote online that the Newsquest title had been “growing at a rate that would have delivered profitability”, but that at the start of 2022 “the cost of living crisis took its toll [and] subscription growth slowed then reversed as the public started facing difficult financial choices”.

Marshall said he is now establishing an independent not-for-profit co-operative to be named Talking Wales.

“The lessons learnt from The National have been numerous and those insights will be put to good use.”

In a comment provided to Press Gazette by Newsquest, Thompson cited the BBC as a squeeze on The National Wales’ subscriber count.

“Despite the best efforts and dedication of the team, competition from free news outlets including BBC Wales online means The National Wales has not been able to grow its paying subscriber base to a sustainable level.”

Press Gazette understands one The National staffer will move elsewhere within Newsquest, another will retain their other role at Corgi Cymru and a third is facing redundancy.

In its final run of articles The National published retrospectives on its 18 months of opinion, history, sport and campaigning output. The announcement of the closure prompted praise from Welsh politicians and journalists in Wales and elsewhere.

NUJ national executive council representative for Wales David Nicholson said the closure “diminishes further an already scarce media landscape in Wales”.

In June Newsquest announced profits of £45.2m in the year to 31 December 2021, a period that also saw average editorial staff numbers drop from 643 to 571.

Newsquest’s parent company Gannett, meanwhile, announced early in August that in Q2 2022 its revenues had declined 7% year-on-year to approximately $749m (£644m) while operating costs rose 1% to $770m (£662m).

The glum financial update was followed by layoffs, which Poynter tallied to at least 70 terminations across 54 US newsrooms as of 18 August.

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