Newsquest digital head attacks hyper-local strategies

The managing director of Newsquest‘s digital division last night poured scorn on a number of the activities regional publishers have adopted in an attempt to engage web-users with local news.

Speaking at AOP’s Micro-local Forum, Roger Green gave a candid assessment of how he believed online technologies were inefficiently used by local newspapers.

He mocked the unnecessary geo-tagging of stories where location did not play an important factor, suggesting it wasn’t necessary for stories about “the launch of a pet insurance policy” to be plotted in this manner. “I mean honestly, what’s the point of that?”

Rival publisher Northcliffe Media, the regional wing of Daily Mail & General Trust, has introduced a geo-tagging feature to the content management system it uses to upload stories to its newspaper websites. Johnston Press is currently developing a similar technology.

Green said: “There are subeditors that are obliged to key in postcodes that get submitted to papers so that stories can appear on a Google Map. It’s very fashionable, it has been fashionable for a while, but it is pretty pointless most of the time.

“In a big city most of the news happens in the centre. Google Maps or Microsoft Bing Maps are a fantastic idea if six bridges are down in the area or if the plague has hit town, but really [otherwise] what is the point?”

Green said the digital development of local papers wasn’t solely about technology but the adoption of certain new devices that benefited local markets and using manpower more effectively.

Newsquest, which is owned by US newspaper giant Gannett, publishes 150 newspaper websites across the UK.

Green said reporters on the Watford Observer were encouraged to use light-weight technology to work remotely in the community rather than in the newsroom and regularly used Twitter and live blogging service CoverItLive to improve audience interaction.

Newsquest is also looking to expand use of the “community contributors” currently used by The Argus in Brighton Argus , he said, adding that it wants to play a bigger part in “the peer-to-peer conversation”.

He urged publishers to invest in analytical technology to help them learn “useful rather than interesting things” about consumer behaviour and said publishers needed to be prepared to forge partnerships only if offers were “reasonable” and would benefit local publishing.

However, he was refreshingly honest about “brass neck” technology companies looking to partner with his business.

He said: “You should sit in on some of the joke meetings I’ve been in with people from no-name start-ups who say we should help them start their business and pay them for the privilege.”

Green said he wasn’t convinced that establishing new local websites away from the main newspaper brand was a winning strategy.

Northcliffe maintains a network of This Is sites instead of online companions to their local newspapers (where Thisisderbyshire.co.uk is the website of its Derby Telegraph newspaper) and in July it launched a series of “Local People” community websites.

Other publishers have retreated from similar strategies. Trinity Mirror has reined-in the emphasis it placed on its network of local IC sites in recent years by launching a comprehensive network of companion websites carrying the names of its newspapers.

Green said: “I’m not sure it’s worth launching ‘This is This Place’ or ‘This is The Other Place’ sites.

“We already have great local brands and our emphasis is on those great local brands we already have.”

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