Archant content boss Matt Kelly says its 'nigh-on impossible' to get readers to pay for local news online
Getting people to pay for local journalism online is now â€œnigh-on impossibleâ€�, Archantâ€™s chief content officer Matt Kelly has said.
Kelly said what is being offered is “not good enough, franklyâ€�, but said he is not in favour of paywalls or subscriptions for local news websites.
David Higgerson, digital editorial strategy director at Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror), said he believes the business model for local journalism is not broken “in the long-term”.
Kelly agreed, saying: â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s broken, I just think itâ€™s misunderstood. I think regional media have misunderstood the business model behind what it does for a long time.
â€œâ€¦ I think itâ€™s a fact that regional media has a self-esteem issue when it comes to new technology. We assume the big national publishers know what they are doing and we follow them.â€�
Kelly added that local newspapers should be â€œthe single most lucrative media spaceâ€� in local communities, especially as closures have led to them often having a monopoly.
â€œWhy arenâ€™t we thriving in those communities?â€� he asked, saying regional publishers have not focused enough on engaging with their readers.
Kelly gave the example of the North Norfolk News where he said to the team â€œI want to be bigger than Facebook in Cromerâ€�.
After paying more attention to what the community wants, Kelly said the title is now engaging more people in Cromer than Facebook, although people are still visiting the social media giant more frequently.
Higgerson said he does not see Facebook as a threat to news publishers in their quest to engage communities â€“ although â€œdefinitely on the commercial sideâ€�, adding he agrees the tech giant should pay publishers for the value their content adds to people when they are on the site.
â€œBut in terms of audience attention the bigger threat is of us not taking Facebook seriously and insisting to ourselves we know what the news is, we will publish the news as we see fit and you will consume it.â€�
Kelly said publishers need to do better at making their websites compelling places to visit in their own right without readers coming from Facebook first.
â€œYou need to have control of your own platform,â€� he said. â€œYou need to have absolute access to the data and audience insights so you can really start to drive that level of engagement.
â€œYou need to make your platform a really compelling place for people to come, not just once a month but three times a day. Why donâ€™t people come three times a day?â€�
Kelly said publishers must ask â€œwhat are we getting wrong?â€�
â€œIt isnâ€™t the audiencesâ€™ fault, it isnâ€™t Facebookâ€™s fault. Weâ€™re not doing the right thing. Weâ€™re not building the right type of platform to make people think â€˜Iâ€™ll go to the Eastern Daily Pressâ€™.â€�
He added that the more local newspapers look at themselves as specialist media for the areas they cover, rather than a subset of national news, the more they will engage with their communities.
Higgerson said publishers are â€œnot putting as much effort as we should be in explaining the importance of our journalism to our readersâ€� and that it is crucial to build relationships in order to bypass platforms like Facebook.
He said the Manchester Evening News has seen a “spike in audience” and a “huge surge in local readers” since the terror attack at the Manchester Arena concert venue in March 2017 where 22 people were killed.
Higgerson added: “The MEN was already doing very well in terms of its audience, but [people] started returning because they realised there was something very special there and they stuck with it and the MEN is doing what it always has done but a lot more beyond that.”
Higgerson said: â€œNone of us woke up at the start of the year and thought â€˜it will be a really successful year if we take a couple of dozen jobs outâ€™.â€�
He added that staff cuts are the last resort, with office closures the preferred method to save money where needed.
â€œIf you started looking at some of the pop-up operations or hyperlocal news operations celebrated for stepping in where apparently we arenâ€™t, which is a narrative I donâ€™t think always stacks up, they donâ€™t always have offices.â€�
Higgerson added: â€œWhile any title thatâ€™s lost is sad for anyone whoâ€™s a journalist, many of those that were counted as individual titles were often freesheets,â€� which he said usually feature less original journalism.
â€œThat isnâ€™t a defence for the job losses, but also accepting the reality that it could have been far worse,â€� he said, referencing Enders analysis from a decade ago that said the local journalism industry wouldn’t survive.
Kelly said there are benefits to having reporters based outside an office, saying his “pet hate” is when they think it’s an office job and don’t go out.
“My view is if we have to close the office, I don’t care if they have to work from Starbucks on free wifi as long as they are in the community.”
Press Gazetteâ€™s Digital Journalism Summit is held in association with News UK.
Source: Digital Journalism