Trinity Mirror’s editorial big guns Neil Benson and David Higgerson stirred by Croyden Advertiser’s Gareth Davies after Twitter storm

Croyden

Former Croyden Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies created a social media storm with his criticism of Trinity Mirror.

 

There have been few occasions as far as I can recall when two such prominent editorial executives such as Trinity Mirror’s Neil Benson and David Higgerson have been moved to respond in such detail from the criticism of one reporter.

I understand that there was an emotional outcry when former Croyden Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies spilled the beans on how he felt TM was destroying his beloved newspaper.

The response from Mr Benson and Mr Higgerson showed as much passion for what TM is doing as Mr Davies obviously has for the Advertiser and his belief that TM is ruining it.

As stated eloquently by Mr Higgerson, TM hasn’t banned stories which generate less than 1,000 page views.

But, from what I know one of the firm’s digital documents states that 43 per cent of stories on TM’s top 12 web sites have generated an audience of fewer than 1,000 page views.

This is in a section which asks how well the firm’s journalists know its audience. The inference from this section clearly is that 1,000 pvs is a benchmark for stories…

Based on this, you can perhaps conclude that there’s a misunderstanding by some of the TM team over what is required, this isn’t a ban, just a quiet word of guidance.

What is clear, is that TM has a plan, this has not always been the case for many newspaper groups. It is based around growing its digital audience, so the focus of the newsroom is clearly geared towards this.

Analytics of the audience is a tool to help this growth. Never has an editor had so much quality intelligence about its audience.

It means, for the first-time, editors can base decisions on hard facts and not just finally-tuned instincts. I do think Mr Benson describing journalists as ‘arrogantly’ choosing what they want to write about as slightly harsh.

Most journalists I have worked with write stories which they believed were important to their readers. There was never a day when an editor and his top team worth their salt didn’t talk about sales and how to improve them.

The times a gleeful newspaper sales manager entered a news conference to proclaim a sales spike on the back of a top story are too many to remember.

No, the newspaper men and women I worked with were obsessed with their ‘audience’ (readers) so there is nothing new on that front.

The difference is that now there is more evidence available to work out which stories the audience is reading.

What would you rather rely on, fact or instinct with a teaspoon of evidence from the sales history of a newspaper?

However, there is a word or two of caution here, the web audience is different to the newspaper audience, so what works well online doesn’t necessarily reflect what might work well in print.

There is little evidence to suggest newspapers are doing well thanks to the digital-only policy, indeed, sales decline for many still smashes double figures.

I was also concerned with the point raised that there’s more content in the newspapers. Recently, sadly, I spent a day counting stories and pages in a couple of TM’s biggest regional papers.

I used the same formula as I had used when I was a deputy editor and editor and it was clear to me that rather than there being more stories there were fewer. I used to aim for between 65-100 local news stories a day in my papers and a minimum of 15-17 overnight pages.

Clearly, from my research, this wasn’t the case and there were a lot of centrally produced pages, which I didn’t count, because I wouldn’t have previously.

This is not a direct criticism, but there are fewer local stories, fewer pages and newspapers cost a lot more. With staff cuts and an emphasis on digital, something has to give.

One of the reasons for fewer stories is because a journalist will be asked to go out on a story, cover it live, write Tweets, post it on Facebook, a version or two online and then it is shifted to the paper.

This takes time, so one story will be polished, but there’s many other stories that won’t be written due to lack of time. The idea is to get, say 20, great stories online and get the audience to come by building content around them.

I guess the way to resolve this is to harvest content from elsewhere to publish, but once again this takes time, unless you can get out the automatic content scrapers.

When we got rid of the editions of the newspaper and printed overnight the newspaper felt dead, we dreamed of those adrenalin busting days of swapping stories around and writing breaking news.

This died with overnight production, but the web gave us a continual edition and I think reinvigorated the newspaper office, the buzz returned and that was great.

However, the demands are many for the journalists at any newspaper group. The 21st century journalist has to have an array of skills, which is exciting for the next generation.

At the centre of this is the ability to tell a great story using core journalistic skills but they also need to understand how to attract an audience using analytics, understand Twitter and Facebook, after all, just view these as modern day bill boards, the ability to use Facebook Live or Periscope, to edit video and write great SEO.

Challenging, yes, but this multi-skilling has helped to reinvent a business which was floundering. It is because a journalist is asked to do so much that massive effort is put into key stories.

What these stories are, is now based on a history of performance online. Is this click-bait then or the ability to give the audience content they want to read?

After all, a newspaper and a website are products which have to be sold, I can’t see Tesco’s selling something no-one wants to buy.

Similarly, why would a media organisation provide content no-one wants to read?

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of concerns about the ability of firms to hold authority to account, for example, how many local councils and health authority meetings are covered today?

Newspaper groups may well argue that the reality is that no-one wants to read this anyway, where is the audience, so why cover them?

I completely understand Mr Davies for being so annoyed with the way TM has developed. But what choice did the firm have?

Newspaper sales are in terminal decline and there’s a chance to keep the business going by throwing resource into digital.

The issue however comes down to cash. Most of the money still arrives from newspaper advertising and sales, as sales decline, so will the cash.

However, no newspaper group will ever be able to get the same revenue returns online, even if the cuts go deeper.

So we will all have to accept that it’s a different business, one with less income, better audience knowledge, journalists with different, but more skills.

Is it better or worse than when I started? Difficult to say, it’s just different. I often had the discussion with my newsdesk about content.

I constantly challenged them on whether the stories newspapers had traditionally covered were the stories for the 21st century readership?

What we are seeing is that the content produced has to reflect the new needs of the audience.

The web has proved that a re-focus of what is good content is needed and that is why it has changed and Mr Davies is unhappy, as are many other journalists who plied their trade when regional newspapers were in their pomp.

There is an argument to say that the policies of modern newspaper groups has accentuated the decline.

But for at least two decades the industry dithered over what to do with the web and while this went on the world passed it by.

Now there’s a lot of catching up to do.

Regional journalism has some great challenges ahead. My hope is that surely, continuing to tell great stories means that it will continue to be the best job in the world…for now.

 

 

 

 

Time for regional newspapers to unbundle content and turn their back on mass media to help keep journalists in a job

For most of their lives, regional newspapers have bundled content together and thrown it into their products, like chucking paint at a wall.

Should regional newspapers be looking at another way of making money than the tired newspaper/web combination?

Should regional newspapers be looking at another way of making money than the tired newspaper/web combination?

The idea was/is to satisfy all of their customers at once by putting content together from all walks of life, on numerous subjects from a variety of places, in the hope that readers will find comfort from a couple of articles per edition.

This culture was adopted by local newspaper web sites. Lob as much content at the site in the hope of grabbing some readers.

However, there has been little thought to putting these web sites together in terms of content. It has been little more than copy what the newspapers do, bundle it all together.

In fact there has been little thought as to whether the newspaper/web site alliance works together at all.

There is also evidence that people don’t trawl through the web site looking for what they want, why would you if you can do a Google search?

This method of bundling content together is outdated. It has been exposed with the advent of the web because the untold secret is that the majority of people only really read a small proportion of a newspaper and now the same can be said of the web site.

This is one of the reasons for the decline of newspaper sales, the formula doesn’t work for today’s consumers. I often talk about the concept of the end of mass media and the rise of personal media.

Readers simply choose exactly what they want by going to certain web sites or downloading the apps with the content that interests them. They don’t want a mishmash of content which they can’t or won’t navigate through, they don’t have time to sort out the gems of content they are looking for.

Effectively, if they were reading a newspaper they would be binning most of the pages and keeping the one or two pages which have something they may be interested in.

This is also reflected in the number of web pages people visit on regional newspaper sites. If you hit above two to three pages per unique user you are doing well.

So is the model for regional newspapers of a paper and web site the wrong one? Well, audience is growing on these web sites, but the plateau may not be that far away.

They will get their spikes with the odd great story or well-constructed web bait, but is this enough to keep the cash rolling in?

We already know that the Mail Online and The Sun are not hitting the revenue required online to prop up the falling print revenues, the same can be said in the regionals, however the accountants attempt to cover up the cracks.

Web advertising income is up, but that’s inevitable as the print income falls and the newspaper groups throw the kitchen sink at trying to sell online, sometimes even prepared to lose print revenue, just to prove a point.

Just look at Local World’s latest figures. The report boasts of a £43.6m profit. But, as a friend of mine points out, once you remove what the shareholders take off the firm and other costs the profit is just more than £11m.

Then look at the digital revenues, up 22 per cent to £24.6m, the press release screams, but print revenues saw an 8pc decline to…just (just?!)£131.5m, but still generated almost 60pc of the group’s overall revenues of £221m.

Sorry, I digress. Delivering content is now about delivering to a targeted audience. These readers maybe small in number, but they will be profitable for advertisers attempting to reach the readers directly.

I’m sure advertisers are unhappy with the thought that many of their adverts are presently seen by thousands of people who live…across the sea…

So rather than concentrating content online, why not in a dozen or more apps? I’ve already spoken about how health stories are not seen as good for engagement on the web or social media, but the term ‘health’ is too general.

Are all stories about cancer, pregnancy or your local hospital really read by so few people? The answer is no.

So what kind of apps you may ask? In city ‘A’ 12,000 children a year need pre-school education. If all the mums and dads sign up to an education app, financed and paid for by the education authority, plus ads sold on the app to a targeted audience, surely this would work as a business model?

Add a further dozen of these apps for things such as pregnancy, eating out, local shopping and suddenly you have unbundled the news to satisfy your readers and advertisers can be assured that they are hitting a local audience head-on, not from across the sea.

For those who are wondering how their newspapers can be filled, a selection of the app content can be put into the newspaper and dveloped, if required.

OK, I accept this is not a perfect solution but what it allows is for the old newspaper/web business to be more attractive to the modern consumer.

Unbundling content is the way forward. Just think of what all of you do every day. You choose to look at certain web sites and apps looking for certain content.

Regional newspapers and newspaper web sites don’t offer this luxury. Like a teenager on their first date they have been fumbling around for too long looking for a magic formula. They now need to grow up and look for a better/different business model, the lives of so many people depend on it.

Journalism dead? You cannot be serious?!

Mark Twain famously said that reports of his death had been grossly exaggerated. The same can be said of journalism.

There is a feeling that journalism is a sick patient and there’s little we can do to revive the old girl.

Where does this feeling of decline come from? It’s fairly straightforward, journalism and newspaper are too intricately linked and they need uncoupling.

Circulation figures show that since January 2001, the total circulation of the UK’s 10-major national newspapers has declined from 12.06 million copies sold on average each day to a daily average of 6.89 million copies sold in 2014.

That’s a decline of 42.84 percent. If the same number of copies were lost over the following 14 years, the total average daily circulation would be under two million by quite some way, at around 1.7 million daily copies.

Journalism needs to uncouple a little from the demise of newspapers so it is not viewed as being in decline.

Sadly, similar decline can be seen in regional newspapers…

The problem with these figures are that they are all about newspapers. The decline in newspapers has created a feeling that there is a demise in journalism.

However, I think, I know, this cannot be further from the truth and we need to instil this into the journalists working in the industry now and would-be scribes of the future.

The point I want to make is that journalism is alive and kicking because now more than ever there are so many outlets for the skills of a journalist from print, to web, social media, apps, a massive playing field for scribes.

Content is king and what we have to do is prepare for is a world where journalism doesn’t stop on the doorstep of newspapers, radio or TV.

Interestingly, and to back up this point, a social media trend report for 2015 which I read last week said: “Brands will invest a lot more on content creation, using multidisciplinary teams to produce stand out material.”

Secondly, it has become increasingly obvious that the press officers and public relations firms are becoming 21st century newsrooms with the decline in numbers across editorial.

I know journalists will turn in their graves at this view. However, there is now more than ever a realisation that this content has to be good, not some old flannel because consumers too easily recognise half-baked, unoriginal content.

Who are the people who will provide content of this quality? That, of course, is journalists, and the kind of journalism spoken about above is different to our traditional view of the profession being inter-linked with newspapers.

It doesn’t have to be a dumbing down and the web’s thirst for only original copy being ranked highly will ensure quality, I hope.

The days of mass media are gone, that’s where readers use to consume their media in one location ie a newspaper. Today it’s all about personal media, like going into the old Woolies’ pick and mix sweet section, we all dip in and out depending on our channels of interest.

And the skills which today’s hacks need have to reflect this disloyal consumption of content.

There will always be a demand for core journalistic skills. These involve finding a story, telling the story, structuring the story, making sure the right information is in the story.

But journalism has greater variety than ever, writers need to know how to produce content for different arenas and different readers who consume in various ways from indepth articles, to hundreds of photos with an eye-catching SEO headline to a Twitter or Facebook one-liner.

A newspaper report is a far cry from a first take on a breaking web story or a blog, a video story or slideshow. These are different journalistic skills which provide variety in the job which it has probably never been seen before.

Journalism is about multi-skilling, working on numerous platforms at the same time and more than likely in the future this will not be on a newspaper.

Journalism is: “The activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. ”

The art of journalism is the art of telling a story, where this story appears and in what form depends on where it can gain audience, this is what journalists both old and young are starting to understand.

Similarly, content which works in newspapers or TV, often does not perform well online or social media. Journalists will have to investigate and test different mediums and different content and how they interact together.

What was required of me as a journalist 30 years ago as is a far cry from what is needed now.

There are around 1.35billion people on Facebook, 100 million users of Twitter, three billions users of the web, then newspapers, TV and radio all scrambling around for audience.

And what links these three? It’s the desire and thirst to have content, which will be provided by the modern journalist.

So journalism is far from needing the kiss-of-life. We just need to be broader in our outlook, newspapers, TV and radio are just three areas where journalism works well, there are many other outlets and the demand for quality content is growing daily.