Johnston considers charging for new multimedia services

As Johnston Press unveiled plans to create 70 multimedia newsrooms capable of filing video reports, chief executive Tim Bowdler has revealed that papers could start charging for some web content.

Johnston has a pilot newsroom underway at the Lancashire Evening Post in Preston which has been reorganised to enable the print and internet departments to be converged. Journalists will file video reports to be streamed on the website. All content is free at present.

Speaking to Press Gazette, Bowdler said: "Access to our websites is free, but as we go along we will be looking at commercial models and we are already testing a variety of e-newspaper subscription models.

"Where our industry has its strength is delivering high market penetration in local communities. In the long run I'm sure we will be doing that better than any other medium, but we will need to embrace a variety of channels and a variety of commercial models to achieve that. And the more people we are going to reach, the more interesting it will be to advertisers."

The pilot project in Preston is the result of a £200,000 investment, which includes new staff, training and equipment, but Bowdler said it would be wrong to suggest the same would be spent at all 70 newsrooms.

He said: "Within the context of Johnston Press, we do not expect these changes to result in a meaningful change to our cost base."

According to LEP editor Simon Reynolds, since the project started around six months ago, the number of page impressions on its site has increased "four or five fold".

Reynolds said: "The level of interaction has been fantastic and we have seen no evidence at all that the sale of the newspaper has gone down. Sales are still disappointing, but it hasn't got worse. The staff here have been fantastic in embracing the challenge, it's not easy."

Bowdler said the changes being made are a necessary evolution in the sector and that the role of many journalists is set to change.

He said: "Let's face it. If we bury our heads in the sand, this industry is going to go nowhere apart from deeper into the sand. The opportunity to multi-skill and be comfortable in a variety of platforms will be increasingly commonplace.

But let's not delude ourselves — the local newspaper is going to remain absolutely central and the primary part of what we offer local communities.

Print journalism is a vital and ongoing skill we need to cherish and nurture."

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