The Readers’ Editor maintained a polite, but interested distance in the debate over the Belfast Telegraph evening edition, preferring to see how the dust settled.
The announcement, on April 16, prompted a flurry of interest on why the paper was ending a traditional afternoon edition after 142 years.
Commentators in the media, blogosphere and political arena were predictably full of doom and gloom and the debate was not always, in my opinion, authoritative, or balanced.
Perhaps that’s to be expected: rough and tumble of public life and all that. Or maybe not — however, it’s not for me to decide.
What is up to me, wearing the Readers’ Editor hat (as opposed to the managing editor’s one) is to collate readers’ views, flag them up to the Editor and assess everything in the context of what is good for the readership and also whether it will have an impact on journalistic standards and ethics.
The position so far is this: there were a small number of negative comments from readers and these were all concerned with how the ‘Tele’ would no longer bring the latest news of the day.
We are now, it was argued, a gigantic leap from the original 1870 promise by founders William and George Baird to provide readers with “all the intelligence of the day”.
All of the comments that came in were well-meant and well-argued. I was however, taken aback by how few there were. Fewer than double figures came my way.
The fact is that 24-hour media and the internet serve breaking news better than print.
Newspapers are there for in-depth analysis, exclusives and comment.
I suppose in a perfect world, the evening edition would never have ended (there remain two editions, the North West and the Final, printed in the wee small hours).
But the truth is that, apart from savings, there are many benefits.
It enabled a switch to the ultra-modern print plant in Newry, permitting colour on every page and extremely high reproduction standards.
Advertisers have been highly complimentary about ‘repro’ standards and the ability to place colour ads on any page.
Directly linked to positioning of adverts — or the ‘ad stand’, as it’s known — the journalists can now plan the paper better as a coherent whole. Standards have not dropped — in fact concentrating on fewer editions enables greater focus and clarity.
So, sad to see the great tradition of the evening edition disappearing, but some very significant benefits have been unlocked, which should serve readers well in the coming months and years.