A local reporter sacked by Trinity Mirror after resisting pressure to produce what he saw as “clickbait” has launched his own website covering his former patch.
Graham Smith is seeking crowdfunding to support Cornwall Reports which he is pitching as an upmarket paid-for alternative to Trinity Mirror’s free Cornwall Live website. He said if he can attract 1,000 subscribers willing to pay £30 a year he will comfortably exceed his former Trinity Mirror salary.
He was sacked after making no secret of his plan to create the rival website.
Smith, 62, was Wadebridge and Padstow reporter for the Cornish Guardian, which was published by Local World. After Trinity Mirror bought Local World in November 2015 he said his patch was increased to cover Camelford, Padstow, Launceston, Bude and Bodmin (around half of Cornwall by area).
He said that 12 journalists were made redundant by Trinity Mirror, but that he was asked not to apply for redundancy.
“I was told ‘your job’s not going to change’. That promise did not survive the first day of the new digital-first product launched by Trinity Mirror.
“I was asked to write a listicle on ten illnesses that can kill your pet.
“Today the top story on Cornwall Live is the 50 sexiest people in Cornwall. Most are actors who are not from Cornwall but have appeared on Poldark.”
Smith said he began developing his own website as a “lifeboat” and said he pitched it to Trinity Mirror.
He was sacked in December and was told that his “values and aims directly contradict the company’s”.
He was told that he had “made it clear” he was “unwilling to align himself with the business’s requirements to meet audience ambitions in accordance with the Trinity Mirror strategy”.
Smith said: “Had I been allowed to continue reporting the news, I would not have pursued the idea of launching my own website”.
Smith said that the weekly Cornish Guardian has gone from seven reporters to two covering its seven different geographical editions and that Trinity Mirror how has around seven reporters covering the whole of Cornwall.
Smith, who has 36 years experience in journalism, estimates that out of 450,000 voters in Cornwall, around 90,000 are engaged enough to vote in parish council elections and that these are his target market.
He said: “There is a very strong sense of cultural identity in Cornwall. One health body, one unitary body, one unitary local government body, an independence movement.
“The difference between my site and Cornwall Live will be like the difference between the Daily Star and The Guardian. It is for people who are interested in what’s going on and not interested in who are the 50 sexiest people in Cornwall.”
He said that Cornwall Reports aims to “provide a comprehensive service without adverts, surveys or other forms of intrusive data acquisition”.
He said Trinity Mirror’s closure of the Cornish Guardian, West Briton and Cornishman local news websites – replacing them with Cornwall Live – has created a gap in the market. He contends that journalism has been replaced by “content” and that this has led to “dumbing down of our culture”.
At time of writing he had reached £995 of his Crowdfunding target with seven days to go.
A Trinity Mirror spokesman said:”Since the launch of CornwallLive.com last year we have seen a significant uplift in engaged local readers – audience numbers have risen sharply, they are staying on the site for longer and returning more often.
“We are proud of our talented journalists at Cornwall Live and what they have achieved, reaching more people online in Cornwall than ever before.
“We wish Graham Smith the best of luck with his website.”