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Editor accuses academic of 'one-eyed hyperbole'

Boss of Western Mail reacts to damning research by University of Cardiff professor

The editor of the Western Mail Alan Edmunds has accused a Cardiff University research fellow of publishing "one-eyed, inadequately-researched hyperbole" about his paper.

His response follows the publication of a piece by Dr Andy Williams called Unholy Trinity: The decline of Welsh news media.

In the study, Williams notes how the circulation of the Trinity Mirror-published Western Mail dropped from more than 94,000 in 1979 to around 33,000 in 2009.

Press Gazette understands that the Williams piece was a feature based on his research written for the Open Democracy website, rather than a new piece of academic research in itself.

Williams claims that "a large proportion of the blame" for the large circulation decline "lies with sustained mismanagement by a company which has consistently valued the private interests of the City of London over the public interest of the readers and communities it serves".

Williams notes in his report that 300 out of 700 editorial jobs have been cut from the Media Wales division of Trinity Mirror over the last ten years. He also notes that Media Wales has made strong profits throughout that period, most recently £18.9m on turnover of £52m in 2008.

Today Alan Edmunds, who is also publishing director Media Wales, accused Cardiff University - which has one the UK's biggest and most prestigious journalism departments - of misrepresenting the truth.

He said: "We will be taking this up in very strong terms with Cardiff University to tell them that, in our view, this is another example from them of one-eyed, inadequately-researched hyperbole full of ill-informed statements, old chestnuts, tired clichés and 1970s rhetoric.

"It is almost identical in tone and line to an equally out-of-touch and quaint view published by the same research department a few years ago and shows an astonishing lack of understanding of how we have had to change and modernise to meet the fast-evolving demands of readers and advertisers."

In 2006, Dr James Thomas from Cardiff University wrote a report commissioned by the National Union of Journalists which found there was "very little evidence" for the need for Trinity Mirror to make 44 planned redundancies at the Western Mail & Echo at that time because of the high profits it was making.

Edmunds said of the new report: "The easily repeated barb about the regurgitation of press releases, for example, is tiresome and insulting to the first class journalists and managers in the regional media.

"We are incredibly disappointed that, despite our attempt at trying to drag Cardiff's researchers out of the dark ages and into the real world following their last report, they appear to have reverted to type.

"They could have written about the fact that Media Wales was the first regional centre in Britain to introduce an integrated multimedia newsroom for its online, morning, evening, Sunday and weekly titles more than two years ago, which has spawned a constant stream of visits to the centre from others throughout the industry.

"This major innovation in tough economic times, and the successful launch and development of WalesOnline, however, appears to have passed them by, despite the fact that a number of their graduates have gained valuable work experience in our newsroom, with a number winning permanent roles.

"It is such a shame that our excellent relationship with the teaching staff at the university's journalism staff doesn't seep through to their research colleagues, who appear to live in a vacuum.

"Far from being an expert view of how the media in Wales has or should have developed, this report betrays a total lack of understanding of the Welsh media marketplace and how it is developing. In my view it is not based on new insights into the circulation challenge that has faced the whole industry but on old prejudices."

Dominic Ponsford is Editor of the Press Gazette

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.