The News Letter

The News Letter is one of Northern Ireland's main daily newspapers, published from Monday to Saturday. It is the world's oldest English language general daily newspaper still in publication, having first been printed in 1737.[3][4]

The News Letter
TypeDaily newspaper
Founder(s)Francis Joy
EditorAlastair Bushe
Political alignmentBritish unionism[1]
HeadquartersBelfast city centre / Portadown

The newspaper's editorial stance and readership, while originally republican at the time of its inception,[5]:134164 is now unionist.[1] Its primary competitors are the Belfast Telegraph and the Irish News.

The News Letter has changed hands several times since the mid-1990s, and is now owned by JPIMedia (since 2018). It was formerly known as the Belfast News Letter, but its coverage spans the whole of Northern Ireland (and often Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland), and the word Belfast does not appear on the masthead any more.[6]


Francis Joy

Founded in 1737, the News Letter was printed in Joy's Entry in Belfast. It is one of a series of narrow alleys in the city centre, and is currently home to Henry's Pub (formerly McCracken's) - named after Henry Joy McCracken, an Irish Presbyterian and a leading member in the north of Ireland of the republican Society of the United Irishmen, and the grandson of the News Letter's founder.

The Joy family were of Huguenot descent and were very active in the life of 18th century Belfast, being noted for compiling materials about its history. Francis Joy, who founded the paper, had come to Belfast early in the century from the County Antrim village of Killead. In Belfast, he married the daughter of the town sovereign (mayor), and set up a practice as an attorney.

In 1737, he obtained a small printing press which was in settlement of a debt, and used it to publish the town’s first newspaper at the sign of ‘The Peacock’ in Bridge Street (the peacock remains the paper's symbol today). The family later bought a paper mill in Ballymena, and were able to produce enough paper not only for their own publication but for the whole province of Ulster.[7][5]

The earliest available edition of The News Letter that survives is from October 3 1738, (which is equivalent to October 14 in the modern calendar).[8] Samples from that edition include reports about a highway robbery (where a bandit "took from a Sardinian Gentleman a Purse of Guineas and a rich Scimitar", among other things) at Newbury and the theft of a horse ("Four Years Old, and about Fourteen hands high") at Ballyhome.

Over the centuries, The News Letter's reports have spanned the rule of 77 different prime ministers and 10 monarchs.[8] It is one of the only newspapers still going which reported on the US Declaration of Independence (carrying the news in an addition in late August of 1776).[4] Originally published three times weekly, it became daily in 1855. Before the partition of Ireland, the News Letter was distributed island-wide.[citation needed]

The Troubles

On March 20, 1972, the newspaper's offices, then in Donegall Street in the north of the city centre, were bombed by the IRA. The paper reported at the time that "two false alarms were phoned in about another bomb just around the corner in Church Street; people were evacuated – towards the real bomb".[9] It detonated at 11.58am, three minutes after an accurate warning had been given about the bomb's whereabouts. Seven people died, and over 140 were injured (with some staff among the wounded). Nevertheless, the paper came out the next day.[9][10][11]

One of the recurring motifs of the News Letter's editorial line today is to remind people of the scale of the paramilitary bloodshed during the Troubles, with the vast bulk of crimes being unsolved.[12][13][14][15][16][17][18]


In recent years, the paper's business model has focussed on increasing subscriptions (home delivery and collection for the print edition, mobile devices/laptops for the digital one). A paywall structure is in operation online, allowing people to read five articles per week without subscribing (though some content is purposely kept behind the paywall). Back copies of the physical newspaper can be bought, going back three months. In the second half of 2016 the News Letter was the fastest-growing regional news site in the UK.[19]

Historical copies of the News Letter, dating back to 1828, are available to search and view in digitised form at the British Newspaper Archive.[20] There are also historic copies of the News Letter available for public access in the Belfast Newspaper Library, at the north end of the city centre, attached to the main Belfast Central Library.[21]

Other publications

The paper publishes agricultural supplement Farming Life on a Wednesday and a Saturday, included within the newspaper itself. It publishes a weekend supplement on Saturdays, containing features and commentary and TV guide. It also publishes a supplement for the Twelfth of July celebrations.

In addition to the News Letter's newspaper coverage of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal (RHI scandal) from 2016 to present, a book entitled Burned: The Inside Story of the 'Cash-for-Ash' Scandal and Northern Ireland's Secretive New Elite, by its political correspondent Sam McBride (a frequent media commentator on Northern Irish affairs), was published in 2019 by Merrion.[22][23]

Print circulation

Year (period) Average circulation per issue
2005 (July to December)[24]
2007 (January to June)[25]
2008 (January to June)[25]
2011 (January to June)[26]
2013 (January to June)[27]
2016 (January to June)[28]
2017 (January to June)[28]
2018 (January to June)[29]
2018 (July to December)[30]
2019 (January to June)[31]
2019 (July to December)[2]


  1. Geoghegan, Peter (9 June 2017). "Who are the Democratic Unionists and what do they want?". Politico. Retrieved 10 June 2017. ... Sam McBride, political editor of the unionist-leaning Belfast Newsletter.
  2. "News Letter: July to December 2019" (PDF). Audit Bureau of Circulations. 6 February 2020.
  3. "Research guide: Irish news & newspapers". Boston College. 13 December 2004. Archived from the original on 9 August 2007. Retrieved 25 September 2006.
  4. Johnston, Ruth (16 October 2014). "Belfast News Letter". BBC. Your Place and Mine.
  5. Stewart, Anthony Terence Quincey (1998). A Deeper Silence: The Hidden Origins of the United Irishmen. The Blackstaff Press. ISBN 0-85640-642-2.
  6. "News Letter". British Newspapers Online.
  7. McNeill, Mary (1988) [1960]. The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken, 1770–1866: A Belfast Panorama. The Blackstaff Press. ISBN 0-85640-403-9.
  8. "The earliest copy of the Belfast News Letter, the world's oldest daily newspaper, turns 280 today". News Letter. 14 October 2018.
  9. "The 1972 bomb outside News Letter that killed seven and injured 147". News Letter. 21 March 2019.
  10. "Sutton Index of Deaths". Conflict Archive on the Internet. Ulster University. 1994.
  11. "A Chronology of the Conflict – 1972". Conflict Archive on the Internet. Ulster University.
  12. "IRA must face the scrutiny that Sinn Fein demands of others". News Letter. 5 January 2017.
  13. McGrattan, Cillian (22 August 2018). "Legacy Scandal: 'We're on verge of fostering a pro terrorist, anti state view of the Troubles,' says academic". News Letter.
  14. Lowry, Ben (13 June 2020). "Ben Lowry: The far-reaching scale of the scandal on legacy still seems not to be properly understood". News Letter.
  15. Graham, Anne (23 September 2018). "Legacy Scandal: 'We are sleep walking into a Province governed by apologists for terror,' says sister of Edgar Graham". News Letter.
  16. "Mum speaks out over LVF murder of her only son – 20 years after campaign declared over". News Letter. 8 August 2018.
  17. Kula, Adam (20 May 2018). "Police family speaks out for first time 35 years after IRA murdered their brother and three other young officers". News Letter.
  18. Kula, Adam (6 June 2020). "'Thousands of Northern Irish people were murdered and their crimes are unsolved – their lives matter too'". News Letter.
  19. "The Drum Awards: Online Media". 2017.
  20. "Results: Belfast News-Letter". British Newspaper Archive. Findmypast Newspaper Archive.
  21. "Newspaper Library, Belfast Central Library". Libraries NI.
  22. Carroll, Rory (13 November 2019). "Burned by Sam McBride review – the inside story of the 'cash for ash' scandal". The Guardian.
  23. McKay, Susan (19 October 2019). "Burned: The story behind the North's 'cash-for-ash' scandal". The Irish Times.
  24. Lagan, Sarah (13 April 2006). "Senior editors leave Johnston amid Irish job cut fears". Press Gazette.
  25. "Circulation of 'Irish Times' increases". The Irish Times. 22 August 2008.
  26. Linford, Paul (31 August 2011). "ABC figures: How the regional dailies performed". HoldTheFrontPage. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
  27. Greenslade, Roy (21 February 2014). "Ireland's newspapers lose print sales, but national titles hold up well". The Guardian.
  28. McKeown, Gareth (18 August 2017). "Irish News reports increase in circulation in first half of 2017". The Irish News.
  29. "News Letter: January to June 2018" (PDF). Audit Bureau of Circulations. 23 August 2018.
  30. "News Letter: July to December 2018" (PDF). Audit Bureau of Circulations. 21 February 2019.
  31. "News Letter: January to June 2019" (PDF). Audit Bureau of Circulations. 15 August 2019.