T/M digital head: Chasing audience is editorial prostitution

Trinity Mirror digital content director, Matt Kelly, said yesterday newspapers wouldn’t be able to successfully charge online for general news and instead needed to look at more creative solutions to recoup lost revenues.

Newspapers were not in the ‘sharp news game’anymore, Kelly said, adding that breaking news in newspapers was ‘the exception rather than the rule”.

Kelly told the Westminster Media Forum that newspapers were in ‘the audience business’and suggested that titles should focus on distinct, loyal readerships rather than blindly chasing large audiences.

He said newspapers needed to shift focus from the ‘user’metric to a system which rewarded engagement with readers, he also encouraged titles to follow the good example of Mediaguardian.co.uk, FT.com and MirrorFootball.co.uk and create distinct online brands.

‘Advertisers and commercial partners want engagement from the customer [online],’Kelly said.

‘Which is what, I think, makes it something of a crime when a newspaper with rich, long-established values decides to chuck those values overboard in favour of a massive disengaged audience.

‘I think it is editorial prostitution and long-term commercial suicide.”

Several newspapers in the UK boasted an audience of around 30m users a month, Kelly said, yet were: ‘mired in a deep sense of panic about the lack of accompanying revenue to pay for it all…

‘All this content costs a bleedin’ fortune to create. Thirty million customers and no profit. It’s not what I would call a business.”

Trinity Mirror has spun-out gossip website 3am.co.uk and MirrorFootball.co.uk from its main website and plans more similar launches, Kelly added, and said that newspapers needed to create more new innovative online products to help diversify revenue steams though appealing to ‘deeply engaged audiences”.

Kelly told delegates that Mirror Group, the national newspaper division of Trinity Mirror, had moved from two revenue streams ten years ago to 28 today as it looked for new ways to make money online.

‘Can we charge successfully for general news? Not a chance. Not with the BBC pumping it out by the barrel-load free of charge,’he said.

‘General news isn’t enough. The general news business is dead. If all you have to peddle is general news, then rest in peace.”

Kelly then embroiled himself in a spat with fellow speaker Struan Bartlett, chief executive and chairman of aggregator NewsNow, by calling his company a ‘parasitic digital business…created to feed off the content we pay to produce”.

Earlier this year News International banned NewsNow from linking to its content because its headlines were being included in the aggregator’s paid-for services.

Kelly accused Bartlett of playing ‘silly beggars’with his MirrorFootball.co.uk website and said NewsNow had ‘contributed to the erosion of the value of news”.

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