East Anglian Daily Times

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.

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.

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.

What is the purpose of eastern region newspaper blogs?

Wordblog had its origins as a media blog before I retired. Since then there have been several small attempts to revive it but I just could not find the subject which would work. Local affairs seemed interesting at times but I could not a rationale, or audience, which would make it worthwhile.

That changed on Monday evening when I went to Winston school room to hear Andrea Hill, chief exec of Suffolk Council Council talk about local government in an age of austerity. This is something which needs a much bigger debate than it has been getting, and that debate should not be only on the terms dictated by the council through its consultations.

The job of blogs, certainly the sort I write, is to engage in and foster debate. Certainly I achieved that with Wordblog in its media guise. The trade press included it in its list of the 12 most influential media blogs in the UK.

Successful blogging requires people to read and comment on your own posts. At the same time you must go out and comment on other blogs. You link to sources of information and comments whether on other blogs or elsewhere, in newspapers for example.

So, I find myself now looking for others with whom to engage in the conversation which is at the heart of blogging. This is how I came to be looking at blogs at the East Anglian Daily Times.

This leads me to revert to my media blogging days. Back in October 2006 I asked: What is the purpose of newspaper blogs? The response was immediate and I followed-up with several more posts on the topic. I like to think I played a part in rethinking the important role of blogging in national newspapers.

Now I am looking for East Anglian blogs with which to engage and naturally considered those on the East Anglian Daily Times site. There are eight of them and they   bring me back to the question: What is the purpose of newspaper blogs.

EADT blogs

  • The Psyclist — last updated September 2010
  • Unspun — a bit better with three posts this month
  • North Stander — two posts this month
  • StUs blog — three posts this month
  • Flying with Witches — the author announces “2011 and I’m back”. Nothing since then and the previous post was last September. This blog comes up on an Evening Star page.
  • Take One — The last post, in April last year asks: Has Hollywood run out of ideas? The author Andrew Clark clearly has.
  • Unmissable — last post in September last year. Obviously become a couch potato.
  • Dines Days — Surely there has been something to blog about from parliament since July 7 last year.  Compare with Nick Robinson’s blog at the BBC.

Perhaps this was an EADT thing so I took a look at the Evening Star in Ipswich. Much the same state of affairs there. Even EdBlog, by the editor Nigel Pickover who has written excellent posts in the past, has been silent since October last year.

The picture at the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich the picture is much the same. All three newspapers have the same over Archant, so it looks as if this has something to do with overall editorial direction.

In the four years since I asked the purpose of blogging in national newspapers there has been real progress. Blogs now provide a two-way conduit though which they engage with their readers.

Local daily bids to reverse ciculation decline

A ring on the doorbell today took me back to my early days as a reporter. A pleasant young man from the East Anglian Daily Times arrived to tell me that the paper was doing a editorial supported circulation drive in the area.

He said that they had done research earlier this year and had found — would you believe it! — that people felt there was not enough local news in the paper. So they were going to base a reporter in the area and would I buy a ten-week reduced rate subscription at £1.75 a week?

I was immediately taken back to my days on the Western Daily Press when under editor Eric Price it was building circulation. It went from around 11,000 to nearly 75,000 in a few  years. With that experience in mind, I suggested that the EADT would need to maintain the better local coverage if they hoped to keep an circulation gains.

They certain need gains with the figures down from 44,755 (ABC) in 1999 to 30,332 in the first half of this year. On a rough calculation they have lost a third of sales in a little over 10 years.

I just hope there has been a change of heart at Archant, owners of the EADT, who I recorded cut a further 20 jobs from the East Anglian Daily Times and its  sister paper, the Evening Star, in January last year.

Ever the optimist, I signed up for the reduced rate subscription.

The bear that never was

All Fools day has come early this year with The Telegraph and The Sun among those hoaxed by sightings of a bear in Rendlesham forest, Suffolk, previously best known as a landing place for aliens from another world.

The East Anglian Daily Times which ran the story yesterday, today revealed that it was all a stunt by a theatre company which is putting on an open-air production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (stage direction “Exit, pursued by bear”) this summer.

In 1980 American servicemen from the Bentwaters air base in the forest followed weird lights and found marks on the ground. The story was of an unexplained flying object but some believed they had encountered an alien craft and its landing site. In 2003 the BBC claimed it was a hoax by a USAF security policeman who used the lights of his patrol car.

News gathering before pigeons

The East Anglian Daily Times has redesigned its EADT24 website. It looks really good, with much clearer navigation but I fear they are spending too much time twittering about their stories rather than getting out and covering the ground.

One of their stories today (a page lead in print) is about a pub landlord who woke up to find a burglar in his bedroom. Just a pity that the penultimate paragraph reveals that it all happened four weeks ago.

Odd really: a lot of twitter about breaking stories but carrying the news from Sudbury to Ipswich is slower than in the days before pigeons.

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