Archant Suffolk dailies and the digital gap

Thanks to a tweet from Tim Youngman, head of digital marketing for Archant newspapers, the world knows that he was in Ipswich today with editorial staff of the East Anglian Daily Times and the  Ipswich Star  (Evening Star until it moved publication to the morning last year).
I wonder what he had to say to the staff of papers which seem to be in denial about recognising the digital revolution and its impact on newspapers.
After reporting that the four Archant dailies in East Anglia had bucked the trend of declining sales, media commentator Roy Greenslade tweeted: “Archant suckered me into believing its papers had increased sales. But things were no quite so rosy after all.”
His second look showed that the sales figures included much higher bulk sales than most other regional dailies. Taking these out, sales of the Star dropped by 10.7% in a year and those of the EADT were down by 7.9%.
Looking at the papers websites (they have a joint staff so the content is very similar) there is little sign of awareness of the way things are changing. Yes, stories have social media buttons and there are blogs.
But look at those blogs and start wondering why they bother.
The two Suffolk papers have six blogs that appear on both sites plus two with appear only on the Star site and two at the EADT. Here is a list of them with the dates when they were last updated:

  • Dominic Castle, Deputy Editor EADT  (Dec 22, 2011)
  • Penelope Parker, EADT only (Jul 11, 2011)
  • Nigel Pickover, Editor Star (Jun 22, 2011)
  • Paul Geater, Political reporter, Star (Nov 4 2011)
  • Anthony Bond (July 11, 2011)
  • Wayne Savage  (Mar 12, 2012)
  • Dan Gooderham (Nov 21, 2011)
  • Josh Warwick (Jul 27, 2011)
  • Mike Bacon (Feb 15, 2012)
  • Mark Heath (Feb 14 2012)

The papers have clearly been hit by reductions in staff. So you might have expected them to do a lot to encourage what the BBC calls “user generated content“. Blogs with rare posts do not encourage reader engagement.
The Guardian has a new advertising campaign based on its concept of open journalism. Editor Alan Rusbridger explains here.
In Suffolk there are many active blogs covering and reporting news. Ipswich Spy has four authors of various political hues and has adopted the Press Compaints Commission code of conduct.
Many of the sites in the county are written by politicians, some are good and some are tedious. There are village news sites, small town news sites. A wealth of material for the mainstream print media to tap into.
But Archant seems to pretend that they don’t exist. Over the past year there have been several major local stories in which bloggers and tweeters have been heavily involved.
There was the debate over the New Strategic Direction and the influence of the County Council chief executive Andrea Hill. The Archant newspapers covered this very heavily producing many good exclusives but there was no meeting with the work of bloggers who also broke stories.
This story ended with the resignations of Ms Hill and of Jeremy Pembroke, from his role as leader of the council.
A year ago the council was consulting on its plans to close many libraries unless communities came up with plans to save them. This has now moved to a promise that no libraries will close, although the management of the service is being passed to an Industrial and Provident Society to be controlled, eventually, by local library groups.
Much of the campaign to save libraries developed on social media — Facebook, twitter and blogs — which have broken many of the stories. Tomorrow I expect the EADT will carry a story that appeared in the Suffolk section of this blog six days ago and has been followed up bother bloggers locally and nationally but I will be surprised if the paper mentions its source.
Another story I wrote recently was about council tax fixing meetings in two districts. Wordblog reported the outcomes the day after the meetings, but stories did not appear in the EADT for several days.
I know that a lot of people read my story first. That cannot do the reputation of the regional morning paper much good.
James Hargrave brands himself a “citizen blogger”. I would simply say he is a good journalist, although that is not his paid occupation. He had written much about libraries and the new strategic direction/Andrea Hill and is now demonstrating his “journalism of engagement” skills on the topic of free schools.
And it is not just comment. At the weekend he live blogged a report of a public meeting. That is now a standard technique, but I have not seen it tried on any story in an Archant website.
People in Suffolk are increasingly getting news from social media with twitter often guiding them to fuller reports. Suffolk blogs are frequently quoted in national media, but not in the local papers.
Ian Katz, the Guardian’s head of news, give an excellent of explanation of how open journalism works in this video (Archant, please watch).

What Tim Youngman has been saying to journalists in Ipswich today, I have no idea. I just hope it more than tips on how to use twitter better to bring readers to their news sites.

East Anglian daily paper sales increases debunked

Sales of East Anglian daily newspapers are not as good as they claimed. I reported sales increases yesterday. I also pointed to the high levels of bulk sales but could not access comparative figures to show that full price sales had actually declined.

I should have waited before posting about sales of the Archant-owned titles.


Today media commentator Roy Greenslade provides the comparisons, after being taken to task over his previous report.

His new story shows that full price sales of the East Anglian Daily Times were 7.9% down in the second half of last year, compared with the same period in 2010. The Evening Star was down 10.9%, the Eastern Daily Press, 8.25% down and the Norwich Evenng News down by 13.7% instead of the 7.5% increase claimed.

These differences are considerably greater than I suspected when I wrote that the Archant titles had substantially higher bulk sales than most regional papers.

Like Roy, I will be taking Archant PR claims with a large pinch of salt in future.

East Anglian daily papers buck trend to increase sales

Congratualtions to Norwich-based Archant newspapers. Their four daily papers in East Anglia are the only regionals in the country to increase sales in the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures.


The figures for the six months from July to December last year (the percentage is the increase on the same period the previous year) are:
Norwich Evening News       18,931     7.5%

Eastern Daily Press             59,802     0.7%

Ipswich Evening Star         15,471     0.4%

East Anglian Daily Times    29,772     0.3%

Archant chief executive Adrian Jeakings said (East Anglian Daily Times):

We are delighted with our success in growing circulation in each of our daily titles and the majority of our weeklies in today’s ABC release. We have achieved this through investing in understanding what our readers want, producing great content that our readers want to read and by marketing, selling and distributing our papers well.

Hold the Front Page points out that while most titles sell 95 per cent or more of the copies, some, including the Archant titles fall below this level.

The fully paid levels for the East anglian titles are: Ipswich Star (80pc), Norwich Evening News (81.3pc), East Anglian Daily Times (89.2pc), Eastern Daily Press (89.5pc).

Exclduing bulk sales the Western Morning News in Plymouth, which sells 99.6 per cent of copies, was the best performing paper with sales down one per cent.

Is the internet really to blame for newspaper circulation declines?

This is nothing to do with hacking but the attention focussed on the News of the World has produced some fascinating data on its circulation. The Guardian Data Blog on NotW readership and circulation demonstrates the value of visualising data.

One item is a chart of circulation over the past 50 years. It shows steady decline, except for a steep drop and recovery in the late 70s and 80s. There is no sign of any impact from the internet: the rate of decline has remained steady overall since the late 80s.

It would be valuable to see comparable charts for all British newspapers over the same period. Has it been too easy to talk about the decline of newspapers in the internet age?

Almost certainly, yes.

NotW stories and the benefit to benefit Murdoch’s media competitors

My local newsagent tells me they sold more papers yesterday than they had done for a long time. This, given that their largest selling title, the News of the World, was no longer on the shelves, is remarkable.

Whether those who were seeking a different title and those who have not been regularly buying a Sunday paper were satisfied, I have no way of telling.

There has long been a guessing game about which title would be the first to close as overall newspaper circulations decline. No one would have predicted it would be the News of the World with its 2.7 million circulation.

Media commentator Roy Greenslade feels that contenders to grab the NotW sales missed an open goal yesterday. There was to much predictable celeb tittle-tattle and he sees the possibility that a Sun on Sunday would find an audience.

He believes the Mail on Sunday, now the biggest selling Sunday, can benefit. Not a surprising conclusion given that four out of 10 NotW readers were in the ABC1 social group (Guardian Data Blog).

Whatever happens the papers that looked vulnerable to closure a fortnight ago have been given the chance of a reprieve.

A big question that remains is when, or if, News International launches a replacement for the NotW.

One reason for closing the NotW was to prevent toxic contagion spreading to to other News International brands. So far there is little sign of that working. The purchase of 100% of Sky has been dropped but even that has not stopped speculation about whether James Murdoch can continue as chairman of the broadcaster.

There are new questions about the extent of the Murdochs’ ownership of media both here and in the United States. Their future political influence on both sides of the Atlantic looks limited.

I imagine there must be people in Wapping wondering whether the launch of a Sun on Sunday, as a NotW replacement, would damage the Sun brand.

There are powerful commercial, as well as political, forces at work which see the NotW scandal as an opportunity to debilitate the whole of the Murdoch empire.

In the fight for survival in an age of declining circulations, debilitating the largest media group is an even more attractive opportunity than it would have been when sales were buoyant.

There will also be some relief at the BBC which has been a target of Murdoch’s campaign to reign in its ambitions.

There is no sign of the story dying down. Yesterday was amazing for a Sunday, the day when, generally, little happens in the UK.

The various investigations and inquiries are set to ensure that the story stays with us for a long time. Murdoch may spring more surprises but at the moment his business is under siege and the miners are approaching the foundations of the keep.

In the offices of other media groups, executives are playing “What if?” business games and crunching numbers. Their commercial interests are in keeping this story going.

Archant to deliver evening paper with the morning papers

Newspaper publisher Archant is to deliver its Ipswich Evening Star to newsagents at the same time as copies of its morning, the East Anglian Daily Times.

East Anglian Daily Times front pageNewsagents have been told this will start on July 25. Evening paper delivery staff will loose their jobs, I am told.

The two papers already have a joint reporting team and most of the news content is identical. Other than to retain the very different designs of the papers it is difficult to see why they should not go all the way and merge them with substantial edition changes for Ipswich and the east and west of Suffolk. The west Suffolk edition also covers a chunk of Essex.

Evening Star front pageTraditionally the EADT has been the county paper while the Evening Star is the paper for the county town. The latest ABC circulation figures (second half of last year) show the EADT selling 29,691 a day, and the Evening Star 15,408.

As circulation declines this sort of cost cutting is inevitable, but still very sad. It is unlikely they will have a new title piece for the “Evening Before Star” but perhaps it will be renamed the “Ipswich Star”. Otherwise it will look ridiculous on the newsagents’ counters at 6am.

As someone who worked on regional morning and evening papers in what now seems like a golden age, I find what is happening to the regional press very sad. But it is more than nostalgia, it is a concern about the role of newspapers in places like Suffolk, digging deep, reporting successes and holding businesses and local government to account.

The Evening Star and the EADT have played crucial roles it overturning the unpopular county council New Strategic Direction (virtual council outsourcing plan) and the departure of Andrea Hill, the NSD’s leading advocate, from her job as chief executive.

But the editors, Nigel Pickover at the Star and Terry Hunt at the EADT, have done a good job despite their much reduced resources. Sharing a newsroom has also removed the plurality of views and the sheer journalistic competition which produces the stories.  With more scrutiny from journalists Andrea Hill might not have been appointed in the first place on her exceptionally high salary.

Is there a better way forward? Possibly. National newspapers are facing some of the same problems, among them the Guardian which faces reduced pagination as it struggles with its losses.

Its editor in chief Alan Rusbridger said recently, the newspaper needed to embrace an “open” digital philosophy in which it embraced contributions from beyond the ranks of its own journalists.

The Guardian plan which involves extending its international penetration (much smaller per reader income than it gets from print, from many more online readers) is not a directly applicable to Archant.

But the point about embracing contributions from beyond the ranks of its own journalist is very applicable.

The Guardian is building links with bloggers around the UK, including many of us in Suffolk. Its online coverage of Suffolk County Council has been increasingly using material from blogs in the county. The paper links to us and as a result increases our traffic.

None of that material is finding its way into Archant websites, or the papers. They seem to be ignoring bloggers although they are monitoring our tweets.

The growing importance of bloggers was underlined by the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, at a conference this week when he said of a controversy at Barnet Council:

I’ve got news for Barnet. Liveblogging from council meetings. Microjournalism. Call it what you like.
It’s here to stay.

This is quoted in a Cuts Blog by Patrick Butler, one of the Guardian journalists who is working hard to engage with local bloggers.

If there is benefit for a paper like the Guardian engaging with bloggers, could not a similar approach help Archent’s daily newspapers. We are are providing some of that plurality of opinion which is important for healthy journalism.

Let’s talk. I am sure I could get together a few bloggers to talk to editorial stragegists at Archant. We might even be able to help each other.

How to use maps in news websites: lesson 1!

From a report, of an accident at a level crossing near Littleport in the fens, on the Evening Star, Ipswich, website. See the reader’s comment below.

virtually blank map

Screen grab from Evening Star website

Time for a Royal Commission on the Media

Anything I write today in defence of journalists will sound self-serving. But I will point out that it is also journalists who have relentlessly and bit by bit uncovered the story of the News of the World’s hacking.

The Guardian has been at the forefront and I am glad to see that Roy Greenslade, their media blogger has returned to his tabloid roots (he worked for Murdoch as assistant editor of the Sun and was editor of the Daily Mirror for a time).

That tabloid approach is seen in his dishing out of the New International phone number and urging the mass protests to NoW advertisers in a what you can do post. He provided a link to a site which makes it easy to tweet them.

Call Wapping for free --- here's the toll-free number 0800 010373 .... tell them what you think about hacking Milly Dowler's phone
Roy Greenslade

Last night Ford announced it was pulling its ads from the NoW and others said they were reconsidering. Again twitter is playing a big part in the development of a news story.

Among the thousands who took up the invitation was Caronline Page, a Lib Dem county councillor in Woodbridge, Suffolk. She had tweeted 17 companies when I counted.

Dear @, will you be reconsidering PC World's advertising spend with #notw given that they hacked Milly Dowler's phone?
Caroline Page

This issue has to be cleared up. A full inquiry, if David Cameron announces one today, will be important so long as it looks at more than simply hacking.

We also require the News International full take-over of Sky to be subject to a competition inquiry rather than being nodded though as the culture sectretary Jeremy Hunt intended.

Self-regulation of the press is in tatters. The Press Complaints Commission is not looking good and will have to become much robust and have sharp teeth. That is one of the things an inquiry should look at.

And then there is the relationship with politicians and the police that Murdoch has cultivated. I have never believed his papers changed the course of elections (he is just good at spotting winners) but politicians seem to believe they do.

This has allowed Murdoch to ignore editorial safeguards after he took over the Times. The safeguards for Sky News look equally flimsy.

If you want to know why Murdoch is not a suitable man to command a third of British print and broadcast TV media, just take a look at the News of the World and Fox News.

Self-regulation came about after the 1947 Royal Commission on the Press. We now need another similar wide-ranging inquiry.

Live blogging: a solution for covering a fast-moving story

Today I tried live blogging — a practice which has become routine on some national titles — for the first time. The results, detailing the day that saw the departure of Andrea Hill as chief executive of Suffolk County Council, are on Suffolk Wordblog.

While the the medium, the web, is different, it felt very much like working on a big running story on a city evening newspaper 40 or 50 years ago.

In those days there were fresh editions every hour and fudge boxes (stop press) to be filled between editions.

The sources now are different: twitter and a news reader to keep up with what other news sites are saying, plus a few emails to gather extra information or clarify things.

The story started with a tweet from Private Eye saying the decision had been taken and Mrs Hill was leaving. It was quickly followed by tweets and stories from other journalists.

The information seemed to be reliable (I knew personally or by reputation most of the journalists who seemed to be getting information from a source in London) so I was ready to quote them. In large measure my live blog was an aggregation available sources.

In the middle of all this Paul Geater, political reporter on the Evening Star in Ipswich, rater forlornly tweeted: “It’s frustrating waiting for facts to be confirmed while others are dealing in speculation and rumour!”

Clearly little or nothing was leaking from the scene of the meeting to decide Mrs Hill’s future or his sources, but why did the paper not fall back on one of the old formulas such as: “Andrea Hill is to leave Suffolk County Council with a pay off of £218,000, a year’s salary, according to unconfirmed reports.”

Evening papers are very different now with even the London Evening Standard having only two or three editions a day. While print newspapers are no longer suitable vehicles for fast-moving story developments, they all have web sites.

Why not use them? There was substantial interest in the story in Suffolk today but the Evening Star was missing out on traffic which it should have been able to satisfy.

Suffolk Wordblog has had its second busiest day since it was started earlier this year.

Murdoch looses on social media, but wins even more power in UK

As Rupert Murdoch gets the go ahead to take over the whole of Sky TV, he lost more than half-a-billion dollars on the sale of MySpace, one of his bigger mistakes.

Even as the financial markets and media analysts hailed News Corps purchase of the social networking site for $580 million in 2005, others were questioning whether MySpace could thrive in the Murdock culture.

In the fast moving, innovative world of the internet, the business grew at first but then stalled, being overtaken by Facebook and then other newcomers. New owners, Specific Media, who have brought in Justin Timberlake as part owner, paid just £35m.

The same cultural objections do not apply to his prosed purchase of the 61% of shy he does not already own. He is well-versed in TV ownership.

But the price he will have to pay the other Sky shareholders has risen since his first proposal and a figure of up to £10bn is now mooted. Can it really be worth that much? Or will he have to be even more aggressive to make the profits needed?

There are serious concerns about the huge share of British media that will be held by an American citizen or Australian origin after culture secretary Jeremy Hunt gives the go-ahead for the purchase.

The Financial Times, in an editorial, sees the requirement that Sky news is demerged as a small price for News Corp to pay for being allowed to control 37% of UK newspaper distribution and 35% of television.

The FT says:

Mr Murdoch has in the past accepted constraints to protect the editorial independence of Times Newspapers and the Wall Street Journal after he bought them. Neither was effective.

But even if the machinery works as defined – a big if given its complexity – Sky News will still enjoy a hollow form of independence. The reasons for this were best put in a lecture given by Mr Murdoch’s son, James, two years ago. The only guarantor of independence, he observed then, was profit.

Murdoch’s record in British journalism, including the way he has used his media power to influence politics and, if some of the allegations about phone hacking are true, the police, suggest he should not have been allowed to extend his power.

Offcom has urged Mr Hunt to strengthen media ownership rules to provide greater protection for plurality. If he does this, it will be too late to role back the dominance of Rupert Murdoch.

And will Murdoch use his cross-media dominance to attack the BBC, frightening politicians into further reigning-in of the Corporation? It is one way of increasing the profitability of Sky, but it would be very, very bad for Britain and all those of us who do not subscribe to Sky.

Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times.


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