Neil Benson: 'Regional press should move into PR'

Editorial director of Trinity Mirror regionals Neil Benson has suggested that every regional newspaper should set up its own PR agency as a new revenue stream.

He also revealed that Trinity Mirror has made £1 million in the last year from deals which include an element of paid-for editorial content.

Benson told the Society of Editors conference in Stansted: “Old revenues are disintegrationg in front of our eyes and we don’t know whether the new revenues are going to turn out to be pots of gold or are going to turn out to be mirages. What we do know is that if they are going to be pots of gold they are going to be considerably smaller pots than we have been used to in the past.”

Among the potential new revenue schemes for local newspapers he suggested, was regional newspapers moving into PR.

He said: “People who work in the regional press know what it takes to hit the spot in terms of press releases. So why shouldn’t all regional publishers think about launching arms-length PR agencies or a full-service agency.”

He admitted that such a move would raise questions over editorial integrity, but he said: “I don’t think they are insoluble.”

Benson suggested that regional newspaper publishers could also use their skills in search engine optimisation to help commercial paying clients.

And citing the example of Kent TV, a council-sponsored web broadcasting service, he said regional publishers should do more to get local government cash.

He used the example of an ultra local news service paid for by Northumberland County Council to help them get their message across to people in remote rural areas. He said that this is reaping a six-figure annual income for the Trinity Mirror owned Journal newspaper.

Benson also suggested that local papers could hire out their video-making expertise to local businesses and said that they need to come up with technology to make it easier to sell photos online.

Perhaps most controversially, Benson suggested regional newspapers should work with advertisers on campaigns which include creating dedicated websites and including editorial content (rather than advertorial).

Benson said that one example of this was the Change for Life government campaign against childhood obesity.

When asked by Press Gazette whether selling editorial was the thin end of the wedge for regional press editorial integrity, Benson said: “The kind of partners who have been involved in this have been government departments with a particular message to get across…The key thing from our point of view editorially is that it is the sort of thing that would cover anyway…

“If had been about buying more DVDs at Currys we’d have said no to it. It’s a fine line, but in the end it comes down to an editorial judgment and that sits with me and our editors – there’s no commercial person who has the final say.”

Benson said that Trinity Mirror had made a further £3m of revenue in the last year from producing “print on demand” editorially-led supplements for commercial clients such as Tesco.

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