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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

By Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette