Newsquest has closed its weekly national newspaper for Wales after seven months to focus on its mission to grow digital subscribers.
The National launched online on 1 March and two special print editions followed before the publisher decided in April there was a “strong appetite” for a weekly paper to come out every Saturday.
Just last week the newspaper was a finalist at the News Awards in the Weekly Newspaper of the Year category.
Thirty-three weekly editions have now been published but Newsquest is pulling the plug, saying it has succeeded in its objective to promote The National’s digital presence as a news service for all of Wales.
It has positioned itself as being different from Welsh news that comes from England-based national outlets.
Editor Gavin Thompson said the positive response to The National has “proved that there is a huge appetite for a new national news service for all of Wales”.
He said: “Our original intention was to be digital-only, but we had such a strong response from our early popup print editions, that we built out a weekly print newspaper as well.
“With the digital audience going from strength to strength, we feel now is the time to focus only on the digital opportunity for The National…”
He added that potential new subscribers would be “investing in a service that can play an important role in the future of Wales”.
The print closure comes as the brand launched an app, which is ad-free for subscribers, and teased new email newsletters coming soon – one of which, The Edition, will come out on Saturday mornings in place of the newspaper with a curated digest of the week’s news.
There will still be special one-off print editions, as originally planned, with more information on these to come in early 2022. Thompson told readers print is still “part of the future of The National”.
The National has a small dedicated team of journalists, with nine listed on its website (excluding columnists), but it also uses content from across Newsquest’s Welsh titles including dailies South Wales Argus and The Leader and weeklies like The Western Telegraph. Newsquest employs around 50 journalists in total across Wales.
Asked what does best on The National, Thompson told Press Gazette: “There’s a strong interest in news that others might not cover and anything that speaks to a sense of identity,” adding that the site’s most-read story in October was about the Welsh festival Nos Galan Gaeaf celebrated at the same time as Halloween.
“Our political content does well thanks to our strong opinion writers, with the likes of former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and former First Minister Carwyn Jones, and our most investigative content around issues or social justice, such as unsafe coal tips, MPs’ expenses and so on. But it has to be something that adds value, not just a straight report of a decision or policy announcement.”
Newsquest has not shared any audience figures for The National as it is focusing on subscriber numbers. Thompson told Press Gazette: “We’re very pleased with the progress we’re making on that.”
Subscriptions cost £2 for the first two months and then £6.99 each month – although readers are also offered the chance to pay more.
Similarweb data shows The National had 130,000 visits in October compared to 17.4m at the Wales Online website owned by Reach, the biggest commercial news provider in the UK.
However The National had a higher proportion of direct visits (38% vs 26%) and referrals from social media (34% vs 15%) whereas Wales Online ranks better in search (55% of referrals vs 24%).
A visit (session), as recorded by Similarweb, means that a visitor has accessed one or more pages on a website. Subsequent page views are included in the same visit until the user is inactive for more than 30 minutes.
The brand’s other new email newsletters will include The National Conversation, rounding up the best opinion writing of the week each Sunday morning, Wales Uncovered, a weekly round-up from senior reporter Twm Owen of all the culture, history, human interest and quirky stories, and Social Justice Wales, featuring coverage of social issues curated by reporter Rebecca Wilks.
Newsquest also publishes pro-Scottish independence newspaper The National in Scotland but has positioned The National Wales as being politically neutral.