With the Coventry Evening Telegraph joining the rush to morning publication, the future for evening newspapers looks increasingly grim. It is difficult to see that they have much future whenever they publish in a country where regional mornings have long had to fight to survive.
The Coventry Evening Telegraph is already an evening newspaper in name only with Hold the Front Page reporting that its first edition publishes at 9.30am and the city final at noon. From October 2 it will drop Evening from the title and and publish as a morning.
With a circulation of under 54,000 — half what it was 40 years ago — income is down and editorial cuts are inevitable. That means the depth of local coverage which was traditionally the strength of evenings is not there.
Other evenings switching to morning production this year are The Echo in Essex, The Press in York, the Bolton Evening News and the Lancashire Evening Telegraph.
In Coventry’s much larger neighbouring city, the once-influential morning, The Birmingham Post is down to sales of fewer than 13,000. By switching to morning production evening papers are putting themselves into direct competition with the nationals. Regionals can survive that but not without a considerable depth of local coverage combined with good national and international content and that does not come cheap.
Part of the problem is that local news seems less relevant as local decision-making has been stripped away by centralising governments. Councils have become little more than administrators of central decisions and reorganisations in the name of efficiency have removed much of the cut and thrust of local politics.
Education authorities have little say over the type of schools in their localities and the health service decisions are made in London. The numbers of significant locally-owned businesses have declined. A move to replace county police forces with regional ones has only just been defeated.
The human interest stories are still there along with local sport and entertainment but much of the meat of local reporting has been taken away. In sum, there are fewer reasons to buy a regional paper.
This is not to say that these papers would not be in trouble anyway; they certainly would be. Social change with few people travelling to and from work on public transport has cut the demand for evening papers. The increased reliance on radio, TV and the internet have all taken their toll.
In the larger cities free morning papers have cut into the market. In London and Manchester the established evenings are giving copies away. And in London News International is to launch a free evening.
While I believe that newspapers have future in print for some time, it is difficult to see paid-for evenings surviving for long outside a few major cities. Switching to morning production looks like desperation.