The power of 1,000 page views

 

Not for the first time in recent months, a ‘Twitter storm’ has been sparked by someone querying the digital content strategy we have adopted at Trinity Mirror’s regional titles.

As someone who was described when working in our North Wales newsroom as ‘one of the architects’ of that strategy, I thought I’d explain the thinking behind the thing which appears to have caused concern.

I hesitated before writing this because there’s always a risk that people don’t want a balanced and reasoned discussion about where the regional press goes in its quest to survive and remain relevant. Indeed, even Press Gazette felt happy to report the comments which triggered the ‘twitter storm’ without seeking any sort of balance.

But something Paul Wiltshire, former training boss at Trinity’s newsrooms in Bristol and the surrounding area, said to me struck me: There are a lot of people concerned about what they’re hearing.  So he goes. 

On Friday, former Croydon Advertiser reporter Gareth Davies – who recently chose to take redundancy –  wrote a series of tweets which denounced the quality of the paper he had just left. The point which attracted most attention was this one:

gareth1

With this follow up the next day:

gareth2

 

Has Trinity Mirror banned stories which will generate fewer than 1,000 page views? No (and in fairness Gareth doesn’t say that, although that’s the interpretation many have given). Has Trinity Mirror instructed reporters to get permission to write stories which generate fewer than 1,000 page views? No. Do we think it’s a good idea for the people who know a story and an area best (the journalists in the newsroom) to discuss how to ensure a story generates more than 1,000 page views? Yes.

Why?

There are two reasons for this. The first is cold economics. Much of the revenue which funds our journalism comes from advertising which is dependent on page views. Another rump of it comes from local advertisers who need convincing that our brands have an impact online locally. Therefore, the more people who see a story locally, the greater chance we have of convincing local advertisers to jump on board.

The second reason is about readers. A story which generates fewer than 1k page views will have been read by fewer than 1k people. According to ONS data, Croydon Council covers a population of 264k. So a story generating fewer than 1k page views will reach 0.4% of the local population at most. That’s not a strong place for a news publisher to be when it seeks to hold authorities to account.

So our content approach is to determine that if a story is worth doing, for readers, we need to make sure that readers want to read it. Gareth claims many council and health stories fall beneath the 1,000 page views mark. Lets ask why, and do something about it, as people should care about the council – schools, bins, roads – and health boards – GPs, hospitals, accident departments.

This is why engagement on social media is so important, both by brands and by journalists. There are plenty of journalists who I work with who can drive a spike in traffic just by Tweeting of Facebooking out a link. Why? Because they’ve built up a relationship with people on social networks and can say to them: “I/We think it is important for you to know this.”

The strength we get from a big audience

Away from audience engagement, it’s critical we tap into new ways to tell stories online so more people are interested in them. In his tweets, Gareth is critical of live coverage of events – yet time and again a live blog of a council meeting has attracted more people to our coverage of that meeting and those decisions than the more traditional way of telling the story would.

It’s not enough – any more – for us as journalists to say ‘this is important, therefore we’ll do it.’ There is little point in writing something because we think it’s important for readers to know about, but not to think how to get readers to read it in the first place. That might ensure we feel we’ve done our job, but what difference will we have made?

In paying attention to audience metrics – and page views is just one indicator, although I appreciate that engagement metrics such as time spent on site, shares of an article and repeat visits also unsettle some journalists – we aren’t saying ‘stop doing this’ we’re saying ‘How do we make more people aware of this?’

If Gareth was able to get the law changed based on articles which generated fewer than 1k page views, I suspect that was as much down to his relentless campaigning on issues as it was due to the coverage which appeared in print and online. Print is a powerful way to make a statement, but there will be few journalists who have not experienced a canny press officer or councillor who is quick to dismiss what we’ve written along the lines of ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not like anyone buys the paper anymore.’

One police force I know claims its local news brand is more ‘noisy’ than at any point in the last 30 years. It helps solve missing from home cases faster than ever, and doesn’t half provoke a response when it raises criticisms of the police force. That’s power to the brand in its drive to do what it’s always done – hold power to account.

As journalists, we know the important role we play in local life, but we don’t have the luxury of guaranteed funding to do our work in the way those who we hold to account do – police, councils, courts and so on.

That’s why we encourage conversations about stories which generate fewer than 1k page views. It would be wrong for us to focus solely on the stories which have performed very well on line, and I’m sure many of those condemning an audience-first approach to stories this weekend would be denouncing us if we did that.

Looking at the stories which don’t generate more than 1k page views is no different to a news editor querying why a reporter spends so much time on a story only ever destined to be a second lead or grout on a printed page. We just do it now with an eye on what readers are demonstrating, through audience data, that they respond to.

And I write this as someone who loves the regional press as much as they day I first set foot into the Chorley Citizen offices on work experience in 1996.

 

31 comments

  1. I don’t think anyone would deny the need for publications to maximise their audience, both to put eyeballs on stories and to drive revenue to pay for those stories. And I can’t think of many journalists who wouldn’t want as many people as possible to see their stories. But while I don’t doubt either the sentiment or the intentions behind both TM’s strategy and the blog, there’s a couple of comments in your piece, David, that feel slightly dismissive.

    Firstly, you state “According to ONS data, Croydon Council covers a population of 264k. So a story generating fewer than 1k page views will reach 0.4% of the local population at most.” However, you don’t out that into the context of what the Croydon Advertiser gets as a product – in print, or online. What percentage of that 264K reads the paper and/or the website regularly? What percentage of stories on the website get more than 1000 views on a regular basis? Surely that kind of context is important to establishing what the baseline number you’d expect a successful story to get for the site?

    Secondly, you describe Davies as “former Croydon Advertiser reporter Gareth Davies – who recently chose to take redundancy”. Factually accurate, but somewhat dismissively downplaying his importance to his title surely, given he won weekly reporter of the year four years running, and is described by HTFP as ‘renowned investigative journalist’. So we’re not talking about some journeyman hack speaking out, but someone with a proven track record. These are the sort of journalists that TM used to nurture and guide onto their larger titles, or the nationals, not sneakily dismiss. Surely, if someone with that track record feels the system isn’t working, at least for their beat, it’s worth listening to them rather than dismissing them out of hand?

    1. Iain, thanks for commenting. I’m sure you know what data I can and can’t share! But your point on how much of Croydon, or anywhere, that we reach is a good one. We need to reach many more people than we do, and that’s why we want to look at the stories which get people engaged.

      On Gareth in particular, you’d have to ask him why he chose to leave as I don’t know. I’m happy to listen to anyone’s concerns and don’t think that my post dismisses what he says, so much as explains a) what we’re doing and b) corrects some of the factually inaccurate suggestions being made.

      This is my personal blog – formal responses to stuff like this comes from TM, not me!

      1. Hi David

        Thanks for replying. Absolutely understand you’re limited by what you can and can’t say from a commercial/data traffic point of view, but I’m sure you’d agree that context is key, particularly in trying to prove or debunk a statement. Saying 1000 views per story are too low is fine on a site doing hundreds of thousands of PVs a day, less so on one doing 10,000 pvs a day.

        As such, and to put context to the above, is the guidance given to newsrooms over stories that do less than 1000 revised depending on which title it’s on, or is it seen as a one-size-fits-all approach, with all newsrooms given the same number regardless?

        As for the second point – likewise, I don’t know the reporter, but I am aware of his work and his reputation, and as always it feels sad, regardless of who their employer is, when a good journalist feels they have to move on, and publicly express dissatisfaction about their situation, as it suggests a breakdown somewhere along the line. As I’ve said before, both here in comments to other things you’ve written, and elsewhere, there seems to be an issue in some of the TM newsrooms regarding the message journalists are being given on content and live reporting,or at the very least the perception of that message.

        I appreciate this is a personal blog and not a corporate line, but are you concerned that that perception is proving a barrier? If someone like Gareth feels the need to go public on his concerns, HTFP and Greenslade continue to write excoriating pieces etc then perhaps the messaging around the aims to drive up traffic isn’t working properly.

      2. Hi Iain. It’s not a hard and fast rule (the 1000 page views) and it will be at local editor discretion where they wish to prompt a conversation. On your point about perception, yes, that can be an issue, and something we need to work on. It’s one of the reasons I wrote the post yesterday – we aren’t abandoning certain types of news, as Gareth and others concluded, via a 1,000 page views rule. So yes, need to ensure the message keeps being delivered, and the right perception of the message comes through. The whole clickbait thing is a good example – we do more politically-related stories now than we did a decade ago, yet you wouldn’t know if from some of the suggestions made elsewhere.

  2. As someone who is active within her community I disagree with many of your points David, and the way Trinity seem to be going.
    I am one of the Admin on a busy local Facebook page for my community. Though an open page, both members and admin are becoming more and more disillusioned as reporters who we don’t know as we used to, have not and seemingly are more likely never to meet, ‘take’ from our page with no politeness, no request and just a lack of feeling; of connectivity.
    The ‘remoteness’ to the papers future could surely compromise anyone wanting to entrust a story or share information with a journalist, it may take several meetings for a source to build trust before details are divulged?
    Local newspapers should also be about getting to know your community and supporting it. You need boots on the ground, to be attending local meetings etc. Over the last couple of years it has become far more difficult to ask for coverage of local annual events such as the Carnival, Christmas Lights Switch-on, Pantomime etc. Many small groups rely on the newspaper to help us to advertise our events, and from this brings a goodwill feeling and generates ‘hits’ from those who will either buy a paper copy or look online for the follow-up articles with photos.
    There is no doubt your paper will still get stories from social media and all your other ways, but what you will lack is the trust of the communities and people to enhance these.
    One last point, if Trinity believe that online only is the way to go, sort your advertising out! It is virtually impossible sometimes to read via tablet or mobile due to the sheer amount and coverage of the pop-ups and flashing images.
    In conclusion, I’m with Gareth, I think its sad that Trinity are heading this way and hope on day things will come full circle again.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Some of what you mention, especially around the behaviour on Facebook groups, isn’t acceptable and I’d be happy to ensure it stopped.

      On the remoteness of reporters, I understand your concerns and the challenge we have is to deal with the financial realities we face while at the same time remaining connected with communities.

      We need to make a difference in our communities, and I see our titles doing that week in, week out. I’m sorry your experience is like that and would be happy to talk to help resolve the specific social media issues yo raised.

  3. Any idiot with a microphone can be ‘noisy’. It’s the content of what you say that makes people sit up and take notice, not the volume at which you say it. Knowing that is what separates the journalists from the ‘content creators’.

    1. Agree it’s not about volume, it’s about having a relationship with readers so that when we say, at a normal volume, that something is worth their time, they trust us.

  4. David, Just picked up the latest “storm” – look forward to HTFP follow up! Great response – although as you intimate, may fall upon deaf ears! I remain somewhat bemused by certain sections of the journalist community whom appear unable to grasp the concept of audience… Keep putting you head above the parapet! Mat

  5. All very worthy and hyperbolic But Mr Higgerson’s lofty plans involve culling staff to pursue tougher web hits targets….the tactics of the madhouse – or a downmarket-orientated newspaper group.

    1. I don’t think anyone I work with would describe the titles they work for, and feel a sense of ownership of, would describe what we do as down-market. Roles in the newsroom are changing, and we have to work within the resources we have, and that isn’t dictated by my ‘lofty plans’ but by the commercial world we live in. Thanks for commenting.

  6. A former editor of mine (Kevin Booth, legend) drilled into me the importance of the ‘Mathematics of News’ ie how many people care about any particular story, how many people it impacts, when making news judgements for the front page etc – it’s a rule to live by in print and online though obviously we can now measure success with detailed metrics rather than in the past by how many copies we sold.

    The mathematics of news doesn’t necessarily mean that a story no one cares about is not covered, however it means that thought should be given on how to make it relevant to readers, how to make them care if we feel it is editorially important. It’s always been a strong way to sift through how much time and effort often over-stretched journalists give to any particular story. And it is a great way for a title to stay relevant to its readership online or in print.

    While I often challenge my News Editor with the ‘mathematics of news’ as the starting point for a debate on the merits of a story, this (1,000 pageviews) to me is another way of beginning the conversation between newsdesk and the individual journalist.

    It is easy to dismiss such starting points (rather than a strict policy) as chasing clickbait when in fact good solid journalism – which importantly is relevant to your audience – often drives the most traffic, especially if a conversation about how it is presented online has taken place (picture galleries, video, SEO, social media etc).

    While we indeed don’t know the all the facts behind Gareth’s decision, Iain’s point is well-made that talent is worth listening to, sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong for reasons they themselves don’t appreciate, and sometimes there is a middle ground.

    If anything I would argue that this is the more important issue to focus on (again stating we don’t know the full facts in this individual case) rather than any controversy on the setting of a goal of 1,000 pageviews. The challenge for any company, not just the media, is listening to passionate staff who care. It is a worthwhile investment, even if they themselves don’t always get the answer they want.

    Maybe the CA management did this, we only have one side, however I suspect with Gareth’s track record he will move onward and upwards (good luck to him).

    Meanwhile, David’s explanation of the pageviews goal, which is essentially what he is writing about, I believe is a valid one. Just my opinion, feel free to disagree.

    1. Thanks Scott. Have always said that I’ll talk (and listen!) to anyone who wants to discuss the stuff I’m responsible for. Indeed, when Gareth raised concerns about ad volumes on Twitter, I invited him to get in touch to discuss. Key point being no-one has the whole answer I guess.

      Also know the people running the South East who are very inclusive in their approach.

  7. Agree with some of the points made here, and this is the crux:

    “Another rump of it comes from local advertisers who need convincing that our brands have an impact online locally.”

    But how much ‘local’ advertising are you really selling online? It’s no use a local advertiser getting a page view from someone reading on the other side of the world, which is the essence of the internet – making our world smaller.
    And local advertisers know that.
    That’s why newspaper groups across the country are abandoning local advertisers to get the ‘big dollar’ from multinationals which they can sell across all of their sites in one easy swoop, with fewer ad reps.
    Hence the boom in small ad mags across the country. Something people can keep on a shelf, filled with numbers of local traders. No-one goes on a newspaper site online to look for ads for a plumber do they?
    The Internet is great to get a story out there with a newspaper. But for local advertising? Not really.

    1. Thanks Chris. That’s why building local audiences is so important. A local advertiser is far more likely to advertise with us if he sees people reading us on the train, or sharing our stuff on Facebook….

  8. All of the debate here smartly switches the focus onto a defendable point about taking clicks into account on deciding content – and away from the core of the argument over the future of print.

    It avoids the central charge that even profitable papers are being hollowed out from the inside in an asset stripping exercise by proprietors who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

    1. That wasn’t what was intended Howard. I wanted to share information to help inform a debate. Obviously, if it would have been better for me not to do that….

  9. I’ve thought of a way to get more than 1k people reading a story even though it might attract less than 1k page views:

    “Don’t click on this link unless you have 35 people standing behind you, reading the story over your shoulder.”

  10. Local and regional news has become a travesty. You need to invest in quality journalism that has integrity, not in click-bait stories and traffic reports presented on a digital platter of pop-up ads. I currently live abroad and have totally given up on even trying to access the website of my former local newspaper, from which I had hoped to keep up to date with all the local news from home. All I get instead are extremely annoying and intensely irritating flashing pop up ads, and if I manage to get past those to reach an actual story, I open it to find either a hastily written piece of about three sentences on a subject that deserves far greater depth (suggesting there is nobody there with either the time or the professional experience to do the story justice), or it is yet another story about a car crash. Well, that about sums up the local news industry today… a car crash that has already happened. Shame on you all.

    1. Only it doesn’t sum things up at all. Look at the way the Nottingham Post, Gloucestershire Echo and Birmingham Mail have all helped raise money for people in need in their respective areas in the past few weeks. Or the way the MEN attracted a large audience to coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign in Salford. Or WalesOnline’s detailed coverage of the battle to run the Welsh Assembly. Or the Liverpool Echo’s superb, two-year-long live coverage of the Hillsborough campaign. I’m all for reasoned debate and constructive criticism – does anyone have all the answers? – but it’s hard to know where to start when you are so dismissive of everything we do.

  11. “That’s not a strong place for a news publisher to be when it seeks to hold authorities to account.”
    I’m having a look at the Croydon Advertiser news feed now. Perhaps you could advise me where the stories are that hold authorities to account? Is it the localised PR puff about the supermarket selling expensive burgers? The national alert about the supermarket recalling peanuts? The Ipsos Mori PR release about people not downloading security software? Perhaps the story from July 25 about ‘worshipers’ (sic) being forced to kneel outside (sounds like you made one phone call which wasn’t returned and haven’t followed it up – holding authorities to account indeed).
    Sure, defend the need for click-friendly journalism on commercial reasons, but don’t try to pretend it’s for nobler reasons.

    1. As Gareth proved with his focus on two pages out of 48, it’s very easy to pick and choose stories to misrepresent a full week’s worth of content.

  12. the audience is a very important thing. without the audience nothing would happen. there would be no books to read, or movies to watch without the audience.

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