Archant

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 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.

East Anglians still reading newspapers

Media commentator Roy Greenslade finds a bright spot among the latest sales figures for regional newspapers. While some have sales falls of 10% and more compared with a year ago, those in Suffolk and Norfolk are doing pretty well.

Roy reports:

There were just three risers – the Dundee Evening Telegraph (publisher: DC Thomson), up 3.4%, and Archant’s two Norwich titles, the Eastern Daily Press and its evening partner, which each put on 0.5%. Their Ipswich titles  [East Anglian Daily Times and Evening Star] were not too bad either, down about 3% apiece. So well done to Archant.

Archant is based in Norwich. I am not sure whether it is a reflection of quite how poor many regionals have become, or that in East Anglia we are slower to loose the newspaper reading habit.

Frustration with local daily

I am growing more and more frustrated with the East Anglian Daily Times. Today it has a story about bus service cuts in Woodbridge. It is less complete than a post by Caroline Page, the local Lib Dem County Councillor on her blog five days ago.

There are many local stories I am seeing on blogs and Facebook which just don’t get into the paper. If they do they are often late.

Can it be that they don’t use a news reader to discover what is being said on the internet? Hard to believe, but it most be true. The only other explanation is that they have forgotten the importance of timely news.

'All news starts off local'

Henry Porter has a nicely evocative piece in the Observer today about life on a regional paper in the 1970s and some important things to say about the importance of local papers. He writes:

All news starts off local. Without reporters dropping into a court case, pestering the manager of an NHS trust, sitting through an inquest or badgering the local bobbies, democracy and accountability in Britain would not be possible. Local news, effectively local newspapers and their websites, is essential to our society and don’t let anyone tell you that the propaganda rags produced by local councils are a substitute for independent newspapers that can run campaigns, concentrate their fire on a council or simply cover the local sheepdog trials.

In the paper’s media pages, Peter Preston is also writing about the local press and supporting the idea of regional monopolies.

“Let Archant keep East Anglia safe,” he writes. I am not sure I agree. In the ten years I have lived in an area where Archant already has a near monopoly I have seen a decline in quality even before the latest cuts.

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