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16 January 2007

Devon Book 76

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
76. The newspaper since 1945

The newspaper survived the war undiminished in Devon, despite the fact that premises in Exeter were damaged during the blitz. Some titles suffered, the Western Times, which had absorbed the Devon and Exeter Gazette on 4 July 1952 and which continued to retain advertisments on its first page until 11 June 1965, although like its national namesake it featured "News in pictures" on the back page, saw its circulation decline and ceased to appear in 1987. Other newspapers filled its place and in 1988 there were around sixty titles published in Devon, despite the competition of other media, such as television., but the press was different in nature from the beginning of the century. There were in 1988 four daily newspapers in Devon compared with seven in 1888, all of them part of the Northcliffe Group who controlled a dozen Devon titles. This was not the only newspaper group in the county. For example the Devon and Cornwall Newspaper Group was responsible for another dozen titles, the South Hams Newspaper Group linked a further half dozen and the Western Gazette Company published five titles in Devon. The situation was rendered more complex by the fact that many of these separate titles were in effect local editions of the same newspaper. Thus Axminster Pulmans, Honiton Pulmans and Seaton Pulmans are local Devon editions of what was Pulman's weekly news. Some of these apparently distinct titles vary little more than the local editions of the Western morning news which are differentiated merely by an edition note on the masthead. Such considerations bring the 1988 total of distinct newspapers in Devon down closer to the 1888 level of 49 titles listed in Kelly's directory.

Another post-war phenomenon is the rapid growth of free distribution newspapers. While not unknown in earlier periods - the Okehampton gazette and advertiser published 1910-13 was distributed gratis - this is largely a product of the 1960s and more particularly the late 1970s. Several publishers produce a paid weekly and a free distribution tabloid advertisement sheet, and several priced Devon weeklies have become free distribution titles as a result of competition, frequently changing from broadsheet to tabloid format at about the same time. For example the Bideford and North Devon gazette became free distribution on 25 January 1985, the Dawlish post on 4 October 1985 and the Tavistock clarion on 27 January 1988. In 1984 there were already about eighteen free-distribution newspapers in Devon. They form an ever-changing and frequently elusive group. As they are free, libraries cannot always subscribe to them and not all are deposited with the British Library Newspaper Library. Their editorial content is frequently much less substantial than their priced counterparts of today, let alone of a century ago. On the other hand, because they are distributed from house to house, their circulation figures surpass anything to be found in the last century. In the 1840s the influential Western times boasted a circulation of 3,000, more than any other newspaper in Devon at that time. In 1988 the two free distribution titles in Exeter each reached some 45,000 households, virtually saturation distribution in a city of 100,000 inhabitants. Indeed it can be safely said that the long-suffering newsboys distribute a greater weight of newsprint in Devon today than at any time in the past.

Exeter has certainly had its fair share of free distribution newspapers. At one time in the mid 1980s no less than three were being distributed each week. The Exeter weekly news was the longest lasting and the one with the most editorial, being published from 7 October 1977 into the 1990s. In September 1981 it was joined by the Devon trader, which went through a series of changes as the Exeter trader in 1982, the Exeter advertiser from 1984 to 1984 and then the Exeter leader. It was published by the Express and echo. In the 1990s, once there was no opposition, it dropped the pretence of being a newspaper, actually declaring itself in one issue to be a "news-free zone", but it eventually realised that even a passive readership demanded more than horoscopes, anecdotes about media personalities, recipes for quiche and similar lifestyle fripperies, and some news crept back in 1998. A third title, the Exeter weekender was more shortlived, lasting from July 1984 to November 1985.

The major daily newspapers also had to change to meet the competition of the free distribution press. The Express and echo became a tabloid on 1 October 1979. This formed part of the paper's 75th anniversary celebrations and coincided with the change from hot metal to phototypesetting. The Western morning news, widely seen as Devon and Cornwall's newspaper of record at the end of the twentieth century was more conservative, retaining its broadsheet format until 10 February 1997. Both titles also moved from city centre premises during the 1990s, the Express and echo to Sowton Trading Estate in October 1992 and the Western morning news to Langage Business Park ouside Plymouth in 1993. The Express and echo had already issued its firstI full colour issue on 1 August 1992 using the new £2,500,000 colour press at Sowton. In all there had been an investment of £10 million in computerisation and electronic news gathering.

The numbers of free publications appear to have diminished during the 1990s and the following table outlines the relationship of newspapers published in Devon in 1998. The table lists 22 paid titles and 16 that are free. The links indicated below do not stop there. Through Associated Newspaper Holdings Ltd the Northcliffe Group is linked with Harmsworth Media Ltd, owners of Westcountry Television, the independent television broadcaster for the region.

Newspapers published in Devon 1998

DayCirculationReaders per copyPrice
1. Northcliffe Newspapers
Western Morning News
-- Western Morning NewsDaily51,5722.532p
-- Evening HeraldDaily55,3342.830p
-- Plymouth ExtraThu110,7561.7Free
Express and Echo
-- Express and EchoDaily31,5853.227p
-- LeaderThu50,2501.1Free
Herald Express
-- Herald ExpressDaily29,8693.027p
-- Newton Abbot & District WeekenderThu11,6131.7Free
-- Torbay WeekenderThu38,8811.7Free
North Devon Journal
-- North Devon JournalThu34,4052.835p
-- Mid Devon GazetteTue12,5402.430p
2. Devon and Cornwall Newspapers
Mid Devon Advertiser series17,866
-- Dawlish PostFriFree
-- Teignmouth PostFri30p
-- Mid Devon AdvertiserFri30p
Totnes Times series9,1561.7
-- South Devon and Plymouth TimesThu25p
-- Totnes Times GazetteFri25p
3. South Hams Newspapers 2.2
South Devon News series
-- Plympton, Plymstock & Ivybridge NewsFri26,5641.4Free
-- Totnes News Fri4,4141.2Free
Ivybridge, South Brent & South Hams GazetteFri1,46130p
Kingsbridge, Salcombe and South Hams GazetteFri7,73930p
South Hams Gazette and Dartmouth ChronicleFri3,1872.030p
4. Community Media
East Devon News series15,023
-- Axminster & Seaton NewsFriFree
-- Honiton & Cullompton NewsFriFree
North Devon Gazette series 48,818
-- Bideford Gazette & Advertiser WedFree
-- North Devon Gazette & Advertiser/TD>Wed1.9Free
Exmouth HeraldFri18,033Free
Journal (Exmouth)Thu7,62530p
Midweek HeraldWed37,000Free
Sidmouth heraldSat6,8812.333p
5. Southern Newspapers
Sunday Independent (Cornwall, Plymouth, Devon) Sun39,7332.660p
Mid Devon Express & StarFri20,8261.6Free
6. Tavistock Newspapers
Tavistock Times Gazette Group 12,3412.3
-- Okehampton Times Thu35p
-- Tavistock Times Gazette Thu 2.335p
East Cornwall Times
7. Dawlish Newspapers
Dawlish Gazette Thu2,8002.320p
Teignmouth News Thu9,0001.3Free
8. Cornish & Devon Post series 13,927
Holsworthy Post Thu26p
9. Pulman's Weekly NewsFri3,63825p
10. South Devon News ShopperFri42,368Free
11. Crediton Country CourierPaid

Sources: BRAD, Willing's press guide.

This page last updated 12 Mar 2001
© Ian Maxted, 2001.