His belief that traditional journalism roles must go and belief that journalists must become ‘harvesters’ of online content has sparked alarm in many newsrooms up and down the land.
At the same time, he is seen by many journalists and pundits as the “man with the plan” for the local press in an industry that is widely perceived to have lost its way.
HoldtheFrontPage publisher Paul Linford spoke to him on Friday about his vision for the digital future – and his continuing faith in print. Here is the interview in full.
PL: There has been a fair amount of focus on digital since the creation of Local World and the audience figures so far have been fairly encouraging, but the big question that has been hanging over the industry in recent years is how do we make digital pay. What are you thoughts about that?
DM: The focus has not been so much on digital as on content. The old model of supplying content through print is fairly bust. You only have to look at circulation volume decline. We can’t keep on doing what we have done.
We see development of content as crucial to make us a more viable industry. That’s very exciting really because where in the past you’ve had a finite amount of space, there’s now no limit to how much rich content we can produce. If we can build a market there, clearly the commerce will follow.
PL: Does that imply paying for online content?
DM: Ultimately there’s no doubt about it, we should aspire to get our consumers to pay for our content. But there is no way at the moment that people are going to pay for access to what are still relatively unsophisticated newspaper websites.
Our approach is to develop those websites and make them very diverse and very reflective of the communities they serve. That must lead ultimately to more specialist content and ultimately with the right audience we should be able to push content to interested groups. We can then prepare the way for subscription-based content, provided it is of very high quality.
PL: Does print have a future?
DM: I think it does, a very special future. We have to use our ingenuity to evolve print into something that is perceived as being premium in a way that online isn’t.
You have got to differentiate the newspaper from online. I see printed newspapers being radically changed in terms of how they serve the community. Print is going to be a complementary medium in the future. It can’t do what it is doing at the moment.
We are expanding in print as a company. We are converting our free newspapers into paid-for newspapers, and I am sure we will launch new newspapers titles as well.
Some of the conversions from daily to weekly have been too early. We have at least one city where we went from daily to weekly where we will be reconsidering that decision.
PL: Are you able to say any more about which city you have in mind.
DM: Yes, Exeter. The Express & Echo is very robust as a weekly paper but there is a feeling that there’s a gap in peoples’ lives.
We’re unlikely to go back to a daily paper but we’re looking at launching a second day a week. We’re not in any way giving up on print.
PL: Following the internal working paper that was leaked last year there has been a fair amount of discussion about how traditional journalism roles might change and so on. Are you able to say any more about that?
DM: All the traditional roles are disappearing. Nothing has changed in the decades I’ve been in journalism, yet everything in the outside world has changed.
We shouldn’t be frightened of this. It’s good news for every journalist we employ. Their responsibility will be increased, their ability to self-publish will be enshrined.
We have to move from this confusion as to whether journalism is a craft or a profession and we have to make sure it’s a profession, where journalists have the ability to do all the crafts rather than be demarcated in single-skill roles. The economics of the industry don’t permit that.
We need to accept what technology can deliver and let journalists manage their affairs without the nanny-type structure we’ve had throughout my career in journalism. That era has gone. Every journalist will effectively be a managing journalist.
PL: We published a story on the website today about the police in Torquay publishing a story directly to the Herald Express website. Presumably this is something you would welcome?
DM: What it illustrates is that communications is no longer the preserve of professional media owners. It’s just facing up to reality.
The local publisher has a responsibility to orchestrate and manage content in different ways. You have to provide a gateway for communities and community institutions. We should give them a platform.