22 December 2014

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Overnight printing ‘won’t kill newspapers’ – Higgerson

A senior digital executive of Trinity Mirror has hit back at claims by two former editors that overnight printing is partly to blame for the decline of regional dailies.

Former Birmingham Mail editors Chris Oakley and Steve Dyson have each cited the move in recent days as one of the main causes of the crisis facing daily titles.

But David Higgerson, Trinity Mirror’s director of digital publishing, says there is “no evidence that going overnight hurts sales.”

Posting on his personal blog, he accused Steve of fostering a “dangerous” view that daily titles are “full of news people have seen elsewhere already.”

Said David:  “The myth which needs killing now is the idea that newspapers which aren’t printed on day are, by default, full of stories people will have read elsewhere. That’s rubbish. Regional newsrooms – in print and online – set the news cycle more often than they respond to it.

“The Birmingham Mail, now overnight, rarely splashes on a story which has been around the previous day, or if it does, it makes sure it takes the story forward. Many of its front pages are exclusives – and stories like the Aston Villa players brawl are brilliant whenever they hit the newsstands, morning, noon or night.

“This isn’t an argument against on-day printing. If it works for a title and they can afford to do it, great. But the solution to our industry’s challenges don’t lie in the time our papers go to bed. They’re more likely to lie in making sure we’re providing people with what they want, when they want it – and that they know they can’t get it anywhere else.

“Perpetuating the myth that newspapers are full of news people have seen elsewhere already certainly doesn’t help. It’s not true, and what’s more, it’s downright dangerous.”

In his speech to last week’s Society of Editors’ regional conference, Chris said that the move to overnight had contributed to the “reduction in relevance” of regional dailies to their readers.

Steve, who resigned as editor of the Trinity Mirror-owned Birmingham Mail in 2009 rather than implement a change to overnight printing, accused evening titles which had made the move of “losing the plot.”

23 Comments

  1. Former CET man

    The reason many titles have gone overnight is cost, not quality. My old paper, the Coventry Evening Telegraph, went overnight and that failed to halt a circulation decline. Other “evening” papers published earlier in the morning, so that their sales window was wider, and that failed, too.
    You can tinker all you like, but it comes down to one thing – being interesting and understanding the readership they serve. Cuts will not help, investment and better links with the communities will. Many reporters are simply office bound, rejigging press releases rather than getting out there, off-diary and finding the stories. In some newspapers, off-diary appears to be like mentioning the devil. But it works, and always has.
    Giving it away for free online is another point in question. Why would somebody go out and buy their local paper when they can look it up for free online? A balance needs to be struck and going overnight, or turning dailies into weeklies won’t address this.

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  2. Ex hack

    Alarm bells rang when I read this was a digital executive responding to Steve. The digital stupidity in the industry is bringing the whole thing crashing down. I love papers but I simply don’t need to buy one, it’s on the web.

    But anyway, the main point, to use the jargon, this was our USP. So when things happened overnight or in the morning, as they often did (9/11 around lunchtime, for example) we responded. With some papers going to press at 4pm these days, readers are sometimes not even getting yesterday’s news, but the day before that!!

    What people like Mr Higgerson (and most newspaper sales execs) fail to understand is that with the vast majority of sales being single copy, ie speculative sales in the shops rather than delivered, something new and fresh has an impact. Case in point is when specials are done, they fly off the shelves.

    We have thrown away the one valuable thing we had and with printing being done heaven knows where, we might never get it back. Sadly, I suspect many readers have gone never to return and the journalists who simply followed the crazy orders are also suffering while the executives perform a kind of musical chairs in the top positions.

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  3. Curious

    The evidence that overnight printing is damaging sales is in the circulation figures, David.
    No wonder Trinity-Mirror’s in trouble if they have executives who can’t see beyond the end of their nose.
    This ‘moving yesterday’s good story on’ rubbish can’t get around the fact that the clock has moved on from the times ‘evenings’ are published… and that story has probably moved on too.
    Mr Higgerson affirms that it is ‘dangerous’ to peddle the line that today’s evenings are full of yesterday’s news. He speaks as if the readers are too stupid to have noticed and the cat is being let out of the bag!

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  4. Tog

    Higgerson would say that, wouldn’t he? The T-M hierarchy aren’t about to admit that their strategies are just wrong, but never mind, revenues and share price speak volumes and Sly Bailey falling on her sword is not going fix the problem. Speaking of splashes, I can’t remember the last time the Evening Chronicle splashed a real news story, not since it went overnight anyway. That’s the whole point isn’t it – to be News it has to be New.

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  5. claude

    So basically Trinity Mirror director says Trinity Mirror’s decision to move all the evening papers to morning papers is not a bad thing.

    Glad that’s cleared up then.

    Next week Trinity Mirror director says making Trinity Mirror daily papers into weekly papers is also a good thing.

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  6. Ethel Gee

    To say that regional evening newspapers have not been harmed by publishing overnight is nonsense. I gave up buying a regional “evening” when they started to appear on the news stands at the same time as the nationals. Why pay for a regional evening when the cost could go towards the cost of a top quality national that was almost certainly printed after the regional?
    The sad truth is that regional evening newspapers are products that are past their sell-by date in every respect. They cannot possibly compete with the quality of the nationals, especially having suffered such savage cuts in staff and talent.
    As for the web riding to the rescue? They were telling us that back in 2000. I will believe it, when somebody brings forward a model that can fund a regional evening – all on its own.

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  7. redundant hack, lancashire

    Non-journalists have been spouting this rubbish for years. I wish I had a pound for every time a newspaper sales manager promised us an evening paper would sell more if it got into the shops earlier. Management fell for it. Result: earlier and earlier deadlines and eventually overnight production. Readers deserted us in droves.

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  8. Steve Dyson

    David and I differ on some – not all – elements of this debate. It’s healthy to consider alternative operations at times of change. One is the Wolverhampton Express and Star (gosh, as a former Mail editor it almost chokes me to say this!). The E&S is the only UK regional daily with full-price sales of more than 100,000 a day, six days a week. How do they do it? Editor Adrian Faber says it’s partly due to the fact that “we are a same-day newspaper that provides our readers with all the local and national news they need.” Yes, the UK’s best-selling regional daily just happens to be a ‘live’ evening paper with multi editions. Today’s news today. So are they print dinosaurs? Not exactly… While looking after traditional readers, Expressandstar.com also has the fastest growing regional newspaper website in the UK, (ABC electronic audit, July to Dec 2011, biggest increase in average monthly traffic to 788,444 unique users.) The E&S strategy is not the only answer, but it’s an alternative one from an independent player, and therefore should be considered along with the plc, ‘profits-for-shareholders come first’ perspective.

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  9. Ex TMM, W.Mids

    The declining circulation is the reason that newspaper titles are forced to go overnight because doing it this way cuts costs that they could no longer afford. This may then contribute to the decline, but the fact is, the newspaper’s circulation would have declined anyway. And as much as any journalist may not want to admit it, it is not their stories that keep bringing money in these days, it is advertising. If the circulation declines, the paper is a harder sell, so changes have to be made.

    Newspapers are not what they used to be because of the evolution of media as a whole. Whatever time of day a newspaper is printed, it is now always going to be slower to ‘break’ it than online media. And attacking David with regards to digital is irrelevant because he has not denied that digital is one of the resons for this decline.

    And just a note to ‘Ex hack';David is most certainly not comparable to a newspaper sales exec, unless you see any of those heading up the strategy and running of Trinity Mirror’s online news sites.

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  10. redundant hack, lancashire

    Well said Steve. When I worked for the E and S in the 80s, I could be sent to cover a 2pm inquest and it would be billed and in the final edition as I walked back to the office. Now that’s a NEWSpaper!

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  11. Cherrywonder

    One of the reasons everything’s gone so horribly wrong is because of directors spouting corporate-speak while closing their minds to the reality of the situation.
    This from Higgerson is just par for the course or, er, corpse.

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  12. Hack, the north

    To those crtiticising David for being part of the TM hierarchy or a ‘non-journalist,’ you really should do your research. I worked with David when he was 17 and had already been working as a reporter on a local newspaper in a voluntary capacity for a couple of years. He is a top-class journalist, has worked his way up from the very bottom and is actually one of the only execs at TM who is on the side of the journalists.

    I don’t agree with him on this subject, but to dismiss his views as simply those from another faceless exec is simply wrong.

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  13. David Higgerson

    There are a lot of assumptions being made in the comments here – I’d suggest people read the whole post I wrote, because that provides more context to what I’m saying.

    I’m not arguing against on-day printing and the benefits it brings, I’m making the point that the value of on-day printing is diminished in a world where news travels to people wherever they are, via websites or social networks. I’m also making the point that many, many local newspapers haven’t become ‘all old news’ as a result of going overnight, because they still set their local news agenda.

    It’s a bit disappointing to hear comments along the lines of ‘oh he works for X, of course that’s what he’d say’. The blog is, as the article says, a personal blog. It isn’t pre-approved by anyone. Likewise, suggestions about ‘not being a journalist’ are wide of the mark, as, I hope, the blog demonstrates.

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  14. Spanner

    Overnight didn’t kill the Birmingham Mail it was a disastrous re design and change of edition structure in 2006 that really started the rot.

    Just shows what happens when you get a bunch of mincing scousers involved in a place they have never lived.

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  15. Last one out - switch off the light

    By TMM – “David is most certainly not comparable to a newspaper sales exec”!!!!!!!!!!!
    Without the lowly sales teams be they circulation or advertising there would be NO newspapers at ALL.
    Too many “senior execs” have never been on the “front line” or if they have it was so long ago that they can’t remember what it’s like to look your customers in the eye! Of course the real issue now is that these companies are totally run by men and women in grey suits who don’t have a clue about what makes a good paper be it in print or FREE digital.

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  16. Ill-informed

    ‘Curious’ suggests that the evidence that overnight printing is damaging sales is in the circulation figures. I disagree. My analysis of the ABCs indicates that the sales performances of regional dailies that have switched to overnight are no better or worse than the handful of regional dailies that print and publish on the same day. Given their coverage of the debate, perhaps HTFP might examine this as part of their analysis the next time the ABCs are released.

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  17. Ex TMM

    @ Last one out – switch off the light: Read the rest of my post before you spout out angry comments on sales execs. Newspapers need sales execs just as much as they need journalists – you can’t sell an empty product, and your product can’t sell itself in a saturated market.

    My point was David is a trained journalist not a newspaper sales exec, as he was compared to under no great light in a comment earlier on. Facts straight first please.

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  18. Tog

    Ex TMM, your understanding seems typical of a non-journalist. ‘…it is not their stories that keep bringing money in these days, it is advertising’.

    So what do you think drives advertisers – it couldn’t be good quality content, could it?

    That’s also why digital advertising on newspaper websites isn’t exactly setting the world on fire because the content is the same rubbish as in the print editions.

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  19. Ex TMM

    Tog, I will quote myself here: “newspapers need sales execs just as much as they need journalists – you can’t sell an empty product, and your product can’t sell itself”. So your question on what drives advertisers, as if I don’t know what I’m talking about is slightly pointless – of course you need good content or you can’t sell your paper.

    But, having previously worked in regional newspapers (not sales I might add) and seen sales figures and advertising figures on a regular basis, I can tell you now, revenue from advertising within regionals such as the Birmingham Mail completely trumps any revenue from actual newspaper sales, as much as you, and I don’t like it. That’s all I’m saying.

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  20. Last one out - switch off the light

    Hi TMM – angry – trust me if I was you would know about it. I was merely stating my point of view after all we are supposed to be able to do so what with a “free” press and all. By the way you can actually sell “an empty product” they are called free sheets – although I personally hate that term.
    All they ever had as far as editorial was concerned was unused items that the paid fors did not use and free community reporters who did a weekly round up, oh and a few listings. Now I do know that there have been a very few exceptions to this but having worked across over 100 free titles I never saw an editorially led one.
    It could be argued that the market is now less saturated ( how many titles have closed over the past two years) it’s just moved across to other platforms and most regionals have been unable to produce a commercially viable digital product that can actually make any serious revenue – FACT
    As far as overnight printing goes – I do know that my company went to overnight because they had sold press slots to other publishers including “Nationals” and made rather healthy profits from doing so and that was well over ten years ago!
    Cura ut valeas

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  21. Mej

    I take your point about the E and S, Steve, but look across to Shropshire and you’ll see how the Star is being stripped to the bone to protect the ‘mother ship’ E and S. Sacrifices are bring made, and a good, multi-edition paper, with talented staff is suffering.

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  22. Fencehopper

    So, in summary, we seem to agree it’s a multitude of sins that are to blame?

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  23. Steve Dyson

    Yes, Fencehopper… but the importance of this thread was the debate on overnight. It wasn’t, of course, the only cause of problems. But any pretence that it played no role is daft.

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