Mike Gilson on five years editing Belfast Telegraph: 'I don't spend a single minute thinking about other newspapers'

Mike Gilson marked five years at the Belfast Telegraph today with an interview in his own paper.

Print circulation of the Belfast Telegraph (77 per cent paid for) fell 2.5 per cent year on year to just over 48,000 in first half of this year.

Gilson says that online the website had 3m unique users in July, which he said is “a record for a news organisation of our size, in a country our size”.

Are are some more snippets from Gilson (who previously edited The Scotsman and The News in Portsmouth).

On print competitors

There is a lot of noise about newspaper competition and who sells what to whom but I never really pay any heed to it. I honestly don't spend a single minute thinking about other newspapers.

It's a really old, analogue debate that we are in competition with only newspapers. The internet and websites where you have news at your fingertips – that's a bigger competitor.

Print circulation of the Belfast Telegraph (77 per cent paid for) fell 2.5 per cent year on year to just over 48,000 in first half of this year.

Gilson says that online the website had 3m unique users in July, which he said is “a record for a news organisation of our size, in a country our size”.

Are are some more snippets from Gilson (who previously edited The Scotsman and The News in Portsmouth).

On multitasking

I'm not asking journalists to multitask so much that they lose sight of the tasks of asking good questions on behalf of the reader. The basics of the job, finding out stuff that someone doesn't want found out, will endure long after the hysteria of newspaper companies filling their channels with user generated content has died out. There's a place for user generated content of course but not at the expense of old fashioned journalism. My reporters still have to go through the usual checks before their stories go in. It costs money of course but trust is vital and will remain so.

On paywalls

If you invest in journalism you have to get something back for it. Without proper journalism online, you are left with people talking to each other in semi-ignorance.

Open a newspaper and you find out things that you didn't think you needed to now you are on an unknown journey in some senses. But largely when you go online, you are looking for things that you already think you are interested in. I need to read journalism I can trust, that tells me something I don't know, that doesn't merely confirm my own prejudices.

We have really talented people who can do that really well but of course the business of news gathering is expensive. We have to pay for it somehow. In America there are some signs of changes in readers thinking. In New York more and more people are prepared to pay in some form for New York Times journalism because they can see that without it they will be manifestly more poorly informed whatever the back bedroom digital bloggers say to the contrary.

We charge for our iPad app, which has 5,000 users, though there's a free trial for a month. The question of paid-for journalism online is never off the table but at the moment our emphasis is on building that big audience on a consistent basis.

On the BBC

It doesn't help when there's a big, publicly-funded broadcaster in your patch. I'm not a BBC basher but it is a big, monolithic beast and I don't think it's healthy for a big public sector broadcaster to dominate journalism in what is a relatively small place, but we are reaching out to see what we can do together.

Read the full interview here

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