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What’s making newspapers successful online?


By Mark Tipper, Executive Creative Director

February 7, 2012 | 4 min read

A few nights ago I was out with a journalist friend for a wee drink and a general catch up and of course after we talked about house prices, sport and the joys of offspring we inevitably ended up talking about journalism and the state of newspaper publishing in this digital age.

Our conversation got me thinking that some newspaper publishers have taken to digital with more success than others and it seems to have very little to do with the type of content they produce.

After all, The Mirror, who’s core readership is slap bang in the middle of the demographic most likely to embrace digital, are still chasing their tails twelve years on from when I worked there.

Meanwhile, middle England’s favourite newspaper has given birth to the most read digital newspaper on the planet (according to Comscore at least).

Lets face it there are no doubt lots of factors coming into play, both financially and culturally that lead to some publishers succeeding, but there is an intriguing division occurring.

The more I look around the more I see publishers who are comfortable with other forms of publishing doing well, whilst those who are entrenched in newspaper circulation, whether for fear of the web for copyright infringements, or a loss of editorial control are the ones who flounder.

It seems to me that the first step for some of the more progressive publishers has been in understanding the Internet isn’t about being ‘a replacement’ for printed newspapers.

Much of this understanding, I believe, comes from the directorship of these groups having experience and financial grounding in other types of publishing and media such as film and television.

NYTC, DMGT and Newscorp are good examples of newspaper publishers who see the printed word as just another channel for their content rather than a business that shifts paper.

Celebrity photos, videos from readers’ mobiles and audio content all now come under the digital publishers remit, an expanding arsenal that the Mail Online editor Martin Clarke is happy to use to the Mail’s advantage to drive readership.

This is also undoubtedly why Murdoch is doggedly pressing on with non-newsprint newspaper The Daily and why The Huffington Post is currently in the process of launching an online TV channel.

In the stark contrast, publishers like Trinity Mirror continue to push on with trying to use the Internet as the support vehicle to their existing business models such as local classified ad business.

You could argue, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on ‘local’ and I would whole heartedly agree, after all Facebook Check-in and Foursquare both do a sterling job of promoting local, social mobility.

But at a time when looking forward to the multi-channel world means trusting in multi-channel delivery and good journalism for their success, seeing an organization like Trinity Mirror let go another 75 editorial staff can’t help but make me sad.

In complete contrast (if my theory is right) the regional and specialist publisher Johnston Press is one to watch this year. With a strong foundation of profitability in its traditional space, it now has the steady hand of digital-darling of Microsoft and BBC Ashley Highfield to gently steer the way.

You can but hope this is going to be just one of many measured walks towards a more integrated digital world where good journalists are expected to produce great content and the method of delivery is governed by thriving and clever-thinking, media neutral publishers who understand the choice of delivery is entirely at the hands of the person wishing to read, hear or watch it.

Now pass the remote, I need to peruse the newspapers whilst I watch Antiques Roadshow in the bath.


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