By Myles Edwards and Suhayl Afzal
Newspapers are relying heavily on sports journalism to survive, according to leading journalists and academics.
The latest circulation figures from ABC (an independent auditor on media performance) show that sales of each quality daily and Sunday newspaper have fallen again in the year leading up to October.
Newspapers such as the The Guardian and The Observer have already ceased distribution of bulks (copies that readers can pick up free of charge from hotels and airlines), with the Times and the Sunday Times set to follow suit in January 2010.
The Sunday Times recorded a relatively low fall in circulation compared to that of other national newspapers, with a 3.37 percent drop in the past 12 months. This is partly down to the popularity of its comprehensive sports section.
Jonathan Northcroft, Football Correspondent with the Sunday Times, believes that sport is integral to the future of newspapers.
He said: “There has never been a greater interest in top end sport than there is right now. The Premier League is the most popular in the world, Test Cricket grosses more money than ever before and it’s the same for all the blue riband events such as the Olympics and Wimbledon.”
Mr Northcroft emphasised the importance of newspapers maintaining their high quality so that readership does not drop any further.
He added: ”Sports journalism is delivering in a sector where people really want to consume content and will pay for exclusive news or to read a brilliantly written opinion piece.”
It could be argued that newspapers should not be overly dependant on sport in this difficult time for the media due to advertising downturns. The high profile demise of Setanta in the UK is evidence of this view.
However, Mark Ogden, Northern Football Correspondent with the Telegraph said: “Newspapers still have the greatest impact and set the agenda.
“If you watch Sky Sports News or listen to Five Live in the morning, their sports bulletins are often led by the big stories in that day’s newspapers.”
Academics also recognise the importance of the sport to the success of print media.
Michael Oriard, Professor of Literature and Culture at Oregon State University said sport both benefits from and contributes to success of newspapers.
He added: “Sport coverage attracts the reader, who in turn looks to daily newspapers to satisfy their growing desire for more and more sport.”