Trinity Mirror’s New Day, what’s going on? Plus, why the digital revolution is on the march in regional newspaper land

New Day. Not exactly an inspiring name for a newspaper, it sounds more in-keeping with a name given to a church newsletter. But let’s not be gloomy. One paper gone, The Independent, another one arrives.

I’ve read extensively around why TM wants to launch the paper today, with stories of gaps in the market and a large untapped audience, plus a commitment to newspapers, but, unless there’s some deep intelligence I’m unaware of, I can’t make too much sense of it.

New day

Many pundits have been surprised that Trinity Mirror has launched a new newspaper and I ap;laud the company for its bravery.

I can only think that TM has thrown its dummy out of the pram at not acquiring the i newspaper and decided to go head-to-head with it.

On the other hand, maybe TM still realises deep down that there’s still cash to be made in print. Remember, don’t be fooled by the web revenues, as I have said before, some newspaper firms are creaming off money from print advertising income to make online look better.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this, except it is hiding the reality that online will never make-up for the decline in print revenues.

So back to the launch of New Day, ok, I’ve only seen one copy, but if this is the future of newspapers then I’m slightly perturbed. You have to wonder who will buy it?

I have said that many were surprised by the launch of a new newspaper because it goes against the TM philosophy which is completely committed to the web, just look at its online figures for the regional press and then the sad newspaper sales figures.

Also, look at the fact that TM is already introducing its 3:1 newsroom into the former Local World editorial newspapers. Sorry, apparently it’s not former Local World, just Local World, despite being taken over…I wonder why that is?

While my former colleagues thought that the so-called ‘transformation’ under David Montgomery was huge, this is in a different league, it’s digital, digital, digital, oh, and a bit of newspaper.

A student, aged 18, asked me the pertinent question of the week: ‘Why has it taken newspapers so long to buy into the digital world?’

The question was spot on.

Back in the dark ages, about 1999, I entered my office in Lincoln and the only way to get online was by dial-up…and that didn’t work.

By that time Northcliffe did have news web sites, but the desire for them to be a success just wasn’t there, someone even told me that ‘hell would have to freeze over first.’

The reasons were mixed for this failure to embrace the web, but mainly it was due to the fact that editors’ feared the web would destroy the newspaper and now The Independent may well have proven a little bit of this story.

On the other hand, was the newspaper doomed anyway? The chances of meeting a journalist who has worked on a newspaper with a circulation rise in the last 30 years is the equivalent of seeing a dinosaur walking along the A50 to Derby.

As I have said previously, by 2006-07, with classified lost to online and households having access to broadband wi-fi, the newspaper business was in crisis.

It was at this point that printing overnight to save costs was the only way forward, which left the door open to the argument that there were now two editions, one for the paper and one online.

The battles between newspaper editors and the digital bods, who had the nerve to ditch their ties, had been won by digital, or so it seemed.

Since 2007 regional newspapers have continued to toy with the web like a playful kitten, many staff not really buying into the culture.

‘Of course we are digital first,’ was the scream heard from the newsroom with a knowing nod and a wink as the best story of the day was held back to sell newspaper in 15 hours time.

Having witnessed the latest Trinity Mirror editorial shake-up taking in the old Local World newspapers, you know the wind of change is just about to sweep through the newly-acquired titles.

Taking a broad brush, TM titles have performed better online than old LW titles, while the LW titles have had better newspaper circulation figures.

But TM’s business is far more digital first. While TM makes encouraging noises about the newspapers, if you picture a large room the newspaper team is over in a darkened corner, waiting patiently for content from the digital team on its 2pm-2am shift…

To put it simply, if I was in charge of a regional newspaper owned by TM I would be ensuring that all my mates suddenly had a role with digital in their title to ensure they were protected…or would I?

If I was an accountant I might be wondering how TM can afford to create this digital empire based on the fact that the cash isn’t really there while the newspapers continue to grind out higher profit.

Back in the digital land of TM, as I understand, you either buy into the ‘revolution’ or you are out on your ear. So all those journos who played lip-service to online, be warned.

There are several aspects to the TM digital model.

Skills are important, but they are not the traditional skills we all associate with being a news journo. This will have a profound effect on those who train journalists, knowledge of court, council or public meeting take a backseat, hello to wizards of social media who understand web analytics or can pull a Storify article together in five minutes.

Then you have to ask about the roles in a newsroom. Effectively, if your story doesn’t get enough uniques, then should it have been written? So, for example, if health or education stories don’t get an audience, why bother doing them?

What about the editor? Does he actually have to edit the newspaper any longer when the focus is clearly on the web? Is the solution is to put someone else in charge and just keep an eye on what’s happening in the cupboard?

If there is no need to have certain specialisms which have been a must in the newsroom of old, what are the roles required? Well, what gets the biggest audience would be the first question I would ask? The answer is football.

This role wouldn’t be just writing match reports, match previews or a story about the odd groin strain, it is far greater than that.

It is all about generating content which leads to debate online, analysing football stats, feeding social media audiences with gossip and tit-bits of information, looking at what content does well and then feeding that with more content.

This is a far cry from a football reporter chatting to the manager over a brew before filing a couple of articles and disappearing off to the pub.

So what does this new newsroom look like? It has experts in a field of content which grabs audiences, forget instinct to pick stories, go for data, move in a data analyst, social media editors and content writers who write stories in advance to pick up the mood of the nation for big events or those special occasions such as Christmas and Valentine’s.

Oh, and if the editor is not keeping a watching brief over the newspaper, you need to have someone in charge of that old-fashioned print publishing. So what you will be asking is this good or bad?

Well, it seems to have worked for TM, its digital audience is good. Is it good for journalism? As ever, there are dangers. As I have said previously, rip up the old news agenda and look again. Never have news organisation had such great intelligence on what the audience likes.

But should content be purely based on what the audience wants? I guess, welcome to the real world of retail, has Tesco knowingly ever sold something that it knows people don’t want?

So why should journalism be immune from the art of good business? When the news editor provides a brief from a parish council meeting just ask them, who is going to read it?

Does this mean that those stories based around holding authority to account are now gone, farewell Fourth Estate? This is very possible.

The Independent has said that it will maintain the standards of its journalism online by ensuring big hitters like Robert Fisk are still employed, but what if he doesn’t get a big enough audience?

Who or what will pay for editorial? If the Guardian can’t make money from online and The Sun and The Mail are struggling, what does the future hold?

Both say that the decline in print revenue is not made up with digital revenue and this is the case for most news organisations.

Based on this, can The Independent survive, is there enough cash coming in to keep journalists employed while turning over a profit?

Back in the old LW domain, if you fancy staying in the mix, think, talk and sleep digital, but keep an eye on the newspaper, after all, the old beast still turns a coin.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Trinity Mirror’s New Day, what’s going on? Plus, why the digital revolution is on the march in regional newspaper land

  1. A really good post Richard, I worked in Digital for DMGT from Northcliffe Electronic Publishing all the way to when they became Local World, and during the 15 years I worked for NEP, Associated Northcliffe Digital, Northcliffe Media, Northcliffe Digital and then Local World and left before it became Trinity Mirror.

    This for me was part of the big problems that the group had with Digital, we didn’t know from year to year which part of the group we would be working for, if we had a job, or indeed if we would be absorbed into another group or who we would be working for.

    So how on earth was it possible to have a coherent and future proofed digital strategy under these kind of conditions? No wonder companies like RightMove came in and built better platforms, because they had one thing we didn’t – stability.

    From my point of view back in the early 2000s Northcliffe Electronic Publishing and Associated Northcliffe Digital had a great team of web developers – including a BAFTA award winning website with headlinehistory.co.uk, and things started to go wrong when the newspapers ‘took back control’ of the sites from the central digital teams.

    When that happened the talented web staff left, and we ended up with the situation where a year ago – Local World made a large proportion of the IT and web staff redundant and they outsourced to India and now they are chopping back photographers at a rate of knots – which if you are you interested in constructing a half decent website is a very bad move.

    Usually instead of giving skills to journalists, the sites centred around the concept of a Digital Publisher – where before we had at team of people skilled in web coding and publishing the onus became on one person – trying to teach teams of usually very disinterested journalists new digital skills.

    And in the end by the time I left I became thoroughly disinterested with what Local World were doing, which was in essence to instruct the publishers to churn out large quantities of Buzzfeed style click-bait to feed the worst designed advertising I’d ever seen which alienated many, many users and destroyed many peoples experience of the sites, both on desktop and mobile.

    It was a complete waste of all the development we’d done in the early years and all the content and community work we did was lost.

    And I think it’s interesting that one part of the digital arm that DMGT kept was Wowcher – not really related to newspapers at all, but something that was developed in Derby and I understand very profitable.

    A lot of people give the argument that the big mistake was giving away the newspaper content for free, however I think that is disingenuous – if newspapers charged for their content I don’t think they would get many takers – the real loss was when the group didn’t diversify from the main newspaper product, they should have kept the web teams going and took a risk on developing new websites and ideas.

    If they developed several commercial websites along the lines of Wowcher that probably would have been enough to subsidise the newspaper products that people will never pay for online – a strategy based on click-bait and advertising will never replace the revenue from print.

    • Thanks Darren, good to hear from you, thanks for your input. There were some great things done at Northcliffe Digital and you were part of that. ND could have done a lot more in turning the organisation digital, but it was held back by those concerned about how it would hit the newspaper. In hindsight they may have protected the revenues for a while but it meant Northcliffe was a long way behind the digital revolution and even today those newspapers are playing catch-up.

  2. A really good post Richard, I worked in Digital for DMGT from Northcliffe Electronic Publishing all the way to when they became Local World, and during the 15 years I worked for NEP, Associated Northcliffe Digital, Northcliffe Media, Northcliffe Digital and then Local World and left before it became Trinity Mirror.

    This for me was part of the big problems that the group had with Digital, we didn’t know from year to year which part of the group we would be working for, if we had a job, or indeed if we would be absorbed into another group or who we would be working for.

    So how on earth was it possible to have a coherent and future proofed digital strategy under these kind of conditions? No wonder companies like RightMove came in and built better platforms, because they had one thing we didn’t – stability.

    From my point of view back in the early 2000s Northcliffe Electronic Publishing and Associated Northcliffe Digital had a great team of web developers – including a BAFTA award winning website with headlinehistory.co.uk, and things started to go wrong when the newspapers ‘took back control’ of the sites from the central digital teams.

    When that happened the talented web staff left, and we ended up with the situation where a year ago – Local World made a large proportion of the IT and web staff redundant and they outsourced to India and now they are chopping back photographers at a rate of knots – which if you are you interested in constructing a half decent website is a very bad move.

    Usually instead of giving skills to journalists, the sites centred around the concept of a Digital Publisher – where before we had at team of people skilled in web coding and publishing the onus became on one person – trying to teach teams of usually very disinterested journalists new digital skills.

    And in the end by the time I left I became thoroughly disinterested with what Local World were doing, which was in essence to instruct the publishers to churn out large quantities of Buzzfeed style click-bait to feed the worst designed advertising I’d ever seen which alienated many, many users and destroyed many peoples experience of the sites, both on desktop and mobile.

    It was a complete waste of all the development we’d done in the early years and all the content and community work we did was lost.

    And I think it’s interesting that one part of the digital arm that DMGT kept was Wowcher – not really related to newspapers at all, but something that was developed in Derby and I understand very profitable.

    A lot of people give the argument that the big mistake was giving away the newspaper content for free, however I think that is disingenuous – if newspapers charged for their content I don’t think they would get many takers – the real loss was when the group didn’t diversify from the main newspaper product, they should have kept the web teams going and took a risk on developing new websites and ideas.

    If they developed several commercial websites along the lines of Wowcher that probably would have been enough to subsidise the newspaper products that people will never pay for online – a strategy based on click-bait and advertising will never replace the revenue from print.

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