What’s going on at TheCanberra Times?
The Rural Press-owned paper’s downward spiral has continued unabated
over the last six-month circulation period (to December 2005) released
last week.

Circulation was down at least 3% on all editions
from the same period the year before (-3.17% Monday-Friday, -3.08%
Saturday, -3.55% Sunday). Only The Courier-Mail was on a par, with a 3.49% circulation drop in its Saturday edition.

Canberra Times
general manager Lloyd Whish Wilson was reported in his own paper on
Saturday that circulation figures over the period had been adversely
affected by a number of one-off factors, including the installation of
new publishing equipment, which apparently caused delivery delays over
an extended period and lost sales.

Maybe. But losing slabs of circulation is hardly a recent phenomenon at the Times (for figures since 1999, see here).
Staffers must yearn for the halcyon days of 2000 when the same
six-month period was up at least 5% on current figures (+7.91%
Monday-Friday, +5.23% Saturday, +6.84% Sunday).

One of the reasons for the decline, one former staffer tells Crikey, is that the Times
“does not tend to hire people with metro experience – they cost too
much.” “When experienced people have gone they are replaced by very
inexperienced ones, few of whom are from Canberra…and it shows.” And
the editor, Michael Stevens, “while having some good news sense, is
very provincial in his outlook”.

Other problems cited by
insiders include Rural Press management’s lack of trust in the paper’s
journalists, lowest common denominator journalism, “dubious ethics”, an
increasingly blurred line between editorial and advertorial and mass
exodus of experienced staff – when Rural Press bought the paper in
1998, “the new management made it clear the Old Guard was not welcome.
Waterford was kicked upstairs, given a grandiose title, and deprived of
all influence”, says one former staffer.

There’s “community
dismay with the paper” which now “reads like a paper put together by
outsiders”, says a Canberra media insider. While circulation figures
have always been relatively small, the paper is a “boutique broadsheet
with a very sophisticated audience” and its “influence is huge”.

But
does the paper’s steadily declining circulation suggest that a growing
number of Canberrans are looking elsewhere for their news?

Peter Fray

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