Secret of Mail Online success - deputy publisher Pete Picton tells The Drum why Mail Online is thriving

By Cameron Clarke |

July 9, 2012 | 5 min read

The Mail Online won the Chairman’s Award at the 2012 Online Media Awards which took place last month at the Emirates Stadium. Having overtaken the New York Times as the world's most-visited online newspaper, drawing in over 80 million monthly users, deputy publisher Pete Picton spoke with The Drum’s Cameron Clarke, explaining what he thinks is the secret behind the publisher's success.

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The Mail Online has just won the Chairman’s Award at the Online Media Awards and Pete Picton, its deputy publisher, is on stage to collect the prize. He starts his acceptance speech but is soon cut short by a heckle from the audience. “The secret behind our success is…”“Tits!” If that’s a simplistic explanation as to why the Mail Online has become the world’s most-visited online newspaper, overtaking the behemoth that is the New York Times, then Picton’s official reasoning isn’t a great deal more complex. He tells The Drum: “I don’t think there’s any secret to the success of the Mail Online. We’ve done it the hard way with good old-fashioned journalism. “We produce good stories, well-written. We get the best pictures, we display them well. That’s down to Martin Clarke, the publisher, and the team there, who know a good story and give it a good show. “It’s not about some fancy algorithm behind it. It’s not about aggregation. It’s about having that unique content.”Mail Online was bestowed with the Chairman’s Award by former Daily Record group managing editor Noel Young after enjoying an astonishingly successful year. “A lot of things about the Mail Online are not perfect, but it’s a gutsy newspaper online and the readers love it,” Young says. “The Mail Online is a brilliant journalistic success and it ought to be recognised as that.”Love it or loathe it, the stats suggest many of us just can’t ignore it. The site overtook the New York Times in December after receiving 45.3 million unique visits that month compared to the NYT’s 44.8 million. Come June, the Mail was racking up a record 80 million monthly users. A newspaper which has at times been derided for having a Little Englander mentality has seized the opportunities presented by the internet and found itself a global audience. I ask Picton, a former online editor of The Sun who helped launch Rupert Murdoch’s New York title The Daily, why he believes there is such an insatiable appetite for a uniquely British export. “My experience is that UK journalism is the best in the world,” he replies. “The experience at the Mail Online is that we think there’s a market for our journalism [overseas] – if it’s good quality journalism. Good quality anything will have a market. “The clue is in the title: the World Wide Web. For any news media there’s a massive opportunity there. Someone said the other day the appetite for journalism is growing, not shrinking. It’s just the delivery has changed.” In an age of journalistic cutbacks, conversations about the media are often prefaced with examples of its decline. Picton is having none of it. In fact, he believes the so-called ‘decline of journalism’ is being greatly exaggerated. “There’s a lot of talk about decline. It’s not decline at all,” Picton insists. “There’s an opportunity for good media organisations to produce quality products, to produce quality journalism, to find a global market. That’s something they’ve not been able to do before. That’s obviously what the Mail Online is going for. We think that’s the goal to go for. Let’s be a global brand. Why not? “I think the delivery mechanism is changing, there’s no doubt. We’re undergoing a revolution in how people access the media, but their appetite is growing. What we’ve got to make sure as journalists is that we produce quality content they want to read.“The thing with digital is it’s a great truthsayer: it tells you what people want to read and what they don’t want to read. If you’re getting it wrong you know pretty quickly. If you’re getting it right you know pretty quickly. “[Online] is a growth industry for journalists, so long as they are good quality journalists.” I make a comment about the plaudits the Mail has received for its impressive 12 months but Picton corrects me. “This is probably about six years in the making. It’s down to sheer hard work, a hard slog. It’s being better, quicker, faster with the best stories and that applies to all media.” So the next question to ask Picton is how will the Mail keep this up, and having already achieved world domination, what does the paper aspire to now? “We’re going to compete more and more with each other to be better than each other, to get the best stories, to get them first. That hasn’t changed in journalism. That’s a truism that applies to whatever media you work in. “What I like to see, and what we hope for, is leading the news bulletins with an online story broken exclusively through online media. That’s the next stage for us.”

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