It describes itself as "the national newspaper of Wales" (originally "the national newspaper of Wales and Monmouthshire"), although it has a very limited circulation in North Wales. The paper was published in broadsheet format until 2004, when it became a compact.
The Western Mail was founded in Cardiff in 1869 by John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute as a penny daily paper. Henry Lascelles Carr (1841–1902), editor since 1869, bought the paper with Daniel Owen in 1877. Historically in South Wales the Western Mail has always been associated with its original owners, the coal and ironindustrialists. Often this led to the paper being regarded with a considerable degree of enmity, especially during the strikes in the coal industry of the 20th century. This association between newspaper and its owner was so strong there is still a degree of distrust of the paper in South Wales.
In contrast, and particularly following devolution, the newspaper has adopted a populist, localist, pro-Wales stance, mainly in trying to find a Welsh focus on major news stories. The newspaper has also stressed the community issues such as the closure of Welsh schools. The newspaper devotes a great deal of its coverage to Welsh rugby.
The paper has varied the amount of space given over to Welsh language coverage, but currently at least two full pages of Welsh are provided in the Saturday supplement.