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Trinity Mirror shelves plans for individual web targets

neilbensonNewspaper publisher Trinity Mirror is shelving plans to introduce individual web traffic targets for journalists following talks with union reps.

National Union of Journalists members at five of TM’s regional centres had voted to take strike action over the plans which were due to be rolled out in the New Year.

But the company has now told staff it is putting the plans on hold following what it called “constructive talks” with the union.

Instead, it is to introduce a system of monthly one-to-one meetings between writers and managers which will review progress on building digital audiences.

The latest move was announced in an email by TM’s editorial director, regionals Neil Benson, pictured above, which has now been circulated to staff.

It read: “I am pleased to say that after constructive discussions with the NUJ, we have agreed what we believe to be a mutually acceptable way forward on audience goals.

“We have agreed that individual audience goals will not be set at this stage. We will be going ahead with monthly one-to-one meetings between writers and managers, to review performance over the previous month and to discuss how personal audiences can be built, using proven best practice and, where appropriate, supported by training.

“We aim to begin one-to-ones from the week commencing January 25. In addition, any members of staff who would like to opt in to individual audience goals, on a trial basis, will be welcome to do so.

“In the initial weeks, the one-to-ones will be run by senior editorial staff, usually (but not exclusively) the editor, executive editor or head of digital. When the process is bedded in, content editors will take over responsibility for one-to-ones.

“Team targets, which have been in place for up to a year in many of our newsrooms, will continue to be used as now.”

Journalists at NUJ chapels in Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, Coventry and Llandudno had all voted to take strike action over the planned digital audience goals following a series of ballots earlier this month.

The union had always claimed the proposed targets could undermine public interest and investigative journalism by encouraging reporters to go for quick hits and populist stories, although Trinity Mirror denied this.

General secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “After clear feedback from chapels about audience goals, the NUJ is pleased that in positive discussions, the company has listened to our members’ concerns.

“As a union, we recognise the company’s need to drive its digital engagement and audience and our members want to work with the company to achieve this mutual aim through constructive collaboration in the workplace.

“We have now received significant reassurances from senior managers over the use of one to one meetings in this process and how these will be conducted in a way that retains the confidence of journalists.

“There will be further discussions early in the new year to refine this following further feedback from members through their chapels.”

38 comments

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  • December 29, 2015 at 3:59 pm
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    It is so disheartening that TM back down to unions when most staff are not unionised and have no say and can do nothing about changes which are implemented!!!!!!!!!!

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  • December 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm
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    A rare but important victory for the NUJ. Well done.

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  • December 29, 2015 at 5:00 pm
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    Excellent news! A victory for common sense – and the NUJ.

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  • December 29, 2015 at 6:32 pm
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    Perhaps TM will soon be asking the NUJ for permission over other aspects of its strategy? Simon Fox might, for example, consult them over exec pay or perhaps over whether the union may allow TM to increase cover prices or advertising rates.

    In fact, thinking about it, if senior management is no longer able to manage the business without NUJ permission, why bother with a management at all? Now there’s an idea.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 8:34 am
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    It was a stupid bit of business that had no business being in our business.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 9:22 am
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    Common sense prevails. In the last story on here about TM staff voting to strike, a few people asked what was the point of holding a ballot for industrial action. Here’s your answer….
    The bottom line: staff do not have to accept daft management ideas. Sometimes it is worth making a stand.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 9:25 am
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    TM-non-Journalist, the clear message is “get unionised”!!!!!

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  • December 30, 2015 at 9:32 am
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    TM non-Journalist and Phil Deane – this is hardly beer and sandwiches in smoke-filled rooms.
    As I see it the NUJ articulated feelings over what should have been a concern of any professional journalist, and it appears to have been more handbags at dawn than old-style militancy here – and it has worked.
    The NUJ should be congratulated for fulfilling its role and the TM management too for its part in reaching a reasonable solution.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 9:58 am
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    I wonder if this just means it will be a less formal process.

    JP told reporters when it moved to “newsroom of the future” that it would not be implementing page targets or counting pages.

    Yet in their end-of-year evaluations the new teams were given an individual breakdown of how many pages they were competing and how it compared to others they were working with…..

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  • December 30, 2015 at 10:10 am
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    Phil Deane – it’s called a democracy. If you cannot challenge management decisions, it’s a world i don’t want to live in.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 10:13 am
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    An NUJ victory? What exactly were they fighting? If was to stop people being measured in newsrooms, then it makes no odds whether it is team targets or individual targets, people will still be measured. That data is out there already, it always was. Pretending it isn’t is just daft.

    Anyone who knows the first thing about negotiation knows you go in with something beyond what you want to give you a position to bargain from.

    So Northernhack, how exactly has taking a stand made a difference? Different set of targets, same net result. Oops.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 11:01 am
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    I have no problem with web targets in principle as editors always used to receive bonuses based upon sales/profits of the printed newspaper. What concerns me is the seemingly arbitrary targets that would have been set by TM.

    If the focus is only on growing web traffic across the network as a whole, all you’ll end up with is carbon copy sites which contain the same stories about cats etc interspersed with a few automated local press releases.

    In the short-term, this allows for more ‘cost synergies’ (love that phrase) and selling national ‘impressions’ into this business model fills some of the financial void being left by the decline of print. In the long-term it damages local trust and, when large companies become more savvy with their digital ad spend, this money will dry up.

    Now, let’s face it, a health or education reporter will rarely generate as much web traffic as a crime or some sports reporters. However, if they are targeted and incentivised around their specific disciplines, then they may go above and beyond to achieve those goals. I hope this is what the one-to-ones will aim to achieve.

    Local advertisers will pay to reach a relevant local audience but in order for this to work, reporters need to be engaged with that audience in order to grow it. TM must provide reporters with the advice and tools they need to help them to achieve what they expect without them feeling like their job is under threat. We are, after all, dealing with numerous traditional reporters who may have the contacts and skills to write, but not the same confidence or ability in digital.

    Web targets can work, but only if reporters are advised and incentivised appropriately.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 11:26 am
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    Oliver beat me to it. From what I understand that’s what trinity were proposing to do based on what Neil Benson says above. The nuj and its cheerleaders on here are shortsighted to think this is a victory to increase recruitment of members. As desker suggests I suspect this measuring of reporters is in place everywhere anyway.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 11:57 am
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    I dread to think what those one to one meetings will be like!

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  • December 30, 2015 at 12:01 pm
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    With this latest NUJ victory maybe it’s time for reporters to put away their iPhones and save the jobs of the few remaining photographers!

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  • December 30, 2015 at 12:07 pm
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    The vast majority of TM journalists are unionised. Every regional centre has recognition. This is why members can have constructive talks with managers and common sense can prevail.
    It would be a positive step to see other groups and sectors following suit.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 12:18 pm
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    Oliver:

    “However, if they are targeted and incentivised around their specific disciplines, then they may go above and beyond to achieve those goals.”

    And

    “reporters need to be engaged with that audience in order to grow it. TM must provide reporters with the advice and tools they need to help them to achieve what they expect without them feeling like their job is under threat. We are, after all, dealing with numerous traditional reporters who may have the contacts and skills to write, but not the same confidence or ability in digital.”

    Wasn’t this the WHOLE POINT of the personal targets? Encouraging reporters to think about their audience and how best to pitch their stories to them?

    Don’t remember reading anywhere that all reporters would have the same page views target, only that they would be required to engage with the who’s and how many’s of the readership to their own stories, in order to learn what that audience is interested in, where they read whatever it is they’re reading and how to convince them to read more, with (I’d guess) a percentage improvement target to measure success.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 12:28 pm
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    Astounding that people are moaning about this, well done to the NUJ and well done to the TM staff.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 2:47 pm
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    Obstreperous, sort of, but you miss the vital points in both paragraphs… training and incentives!

    Pretty much every other industry which gives its staff targets offers commission and/or bonuses for meeting them – car salesmen, hairdressers, bankers, ad reps and so on. Not only that, but most companies will offer their staff on-going training in how best to achieve these targets.

    You cannot simply give someone a random figure and, arguably, threaten them with their job if they fail. It’s an employment tribunal waiting to happen!

    My concern is that ‘a percentage improvement’, as you put it, is not a true measure of success and exactly the sort of random target which will cause long-term problems.

    There is only ever going to be a finite number of people who are interested in certain subjects within your local area or region. Reporters need to understand how and why all metrics, such as repeat visits, page views, time spent on site, referrals etc, are important to the business in different ways.

    Only when they fully understand what the business needs are and have had training in how each area could be improved will they be able to get a grip on how best to get their ‘bonus’. It’s basic business and without this sort of training or any incentives, any individual ‘web traffic’ targets are doomed to fail.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 3:14 pm
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    When I was a reporter I strongly suspected that my exclusives were leading to more paper sales than stories written by others.

    I could not back this vanity up.

    How gratifying it must be for today’s talented newshounds to be able to prove this status unquestionably now – and how alarming for the less so!

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  • December 30, 2015 at 3:55 pm
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    But bof why assume it is the best stories that sell the most papers? As we see from digital, it is stories about cats that look like famous politicians which receive the most hits. In the same way that in the old days the crossword was responsible for more sales than any expose of town hall wrongdoing.

    The great, but slightly terrifying, thing about the web is that it reveals the truth about human nature.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 5:52 pm
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    Depends which numbers you look at kendo. Trinity is obsessed with how well stories do locally, not internationally.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 6:34 pm
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    As Jeff says, the fact a few are still moaning is remarkable. Dear “WTF”, the NUJ was fighting for members who perceived that a low hit count could have led to disciplinary action. Making a stand has made the difference because staff sent a message to management via a ballot that their idea was flawed. The result? It has been shelved. More importantly, it shows that grown-up negotiation between two sides can lead to compromise and agreement. So fair play, not just to the NUJ, but to TM bosses for having the good sense to back down and think again.

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  • December 30, 2015 at 9:09 pm
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    Targets, targets, targets. Get a life. The target should be to get a good story and print it so as to boost sales. Management were not allowed in my time to interfere with editorial and that is how it should be otherwise there will be the ever increasing cry of “oh, if you do this story we will get more advertising.” Take a walk. Perhaps after 50 years in “the game”I am getting too long in the tooth.

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  • December 31, 2015 at 9:17 am
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    Talking of measuring individual performance…
    Barring some incredible New Year’s Eve turnaround in market sentiment it looks like Johnston Press will end 2015 with a share value two thirds below that which it started the year.
    Forget the fabled ‘tipping point’, 2016 could see the board and shareholders reaching the long awaited ‘shoving point’?

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  • December 31, 2015 at 10:03 am
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    Northernhack, You clearly have far more information than the rest of us WTF because you seem to know the percentage of the newsroom which voted for industrial action. And I thought Trinity Mirror had made a point of saying people wouldn’t be disciplined for low hits as you call them? So that’s not the victory you claim, and the NUJ doesn’t appear to be claiming a victory either. Never let the facts get the way of a good story though!

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  • December 31, 2015 at 10:10 am
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    trying to sub a comment on a mobile phone isn’t easy, hence the random WTF mid sentence. Fat fingers.

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  • December 31, 2015 at 10:44 am
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    desker. that’s worrying it they are counting pages. But there has always been a touch of the Kremlin about JP (control from the centre and all that).

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  • December 31, 2015 at 11:21 am
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    Heavens forbid journalists were actually held accountable for the quality of their output. This is a green light to the continuation of producing any old tripe and there being no consequences. The sector is having to live with far fewer journalists – Trinity’s attempt might have ensured a certain level of quality within the ranks of said few. Now we have to live with few and not necessarily quality. Once again, the NUJ should be ashamed of themselves.

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  • January 2, 2016 at 1:54 pm
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    So now journalists who write rubbish that no-one wants to read can continue to get away with it, making more work for those who actually understand audience engagement.

    Thanks a lot NUJ, what a great victory. Now how about doing something about the fact journalists are paid peanuts?

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  • January 3, 2016 at 10:11 am
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    Well done to all concerned. Great to see the company listening to staff concerns and not just ploughing on regardless with a short sighted policy which would have eroded any sense of teamwork in newsrooms.
    Well done too to the NUJ reps for standing up and fighting this when it had looked to be unwinnable.

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  • January 4, 2016 at 10:28 am
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    Re. the comment from ‘Targets Are Good’ about journalists who “write rubbish” being able to “get away with it”.
    Surely that’s why you have news editors, or whatever they’re called in this crazy new digital world, to make sure “rubbish” stories are spiked or returned to the reporter to be re-written.
    The bottom line in all of this is that the journalists directly affected by these proposed digital audience targets had genuine serious concerns and used their democratically achieved union recognition to have ‘constructive’ talks with the management.
    Surely we need more of this, not less.
    And, if it took a ballot for strike action to get management around the table, so be it!
    The last time I looked such a recourse had not been banned – yet.

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  • January 4, 2016 at 4:00 pm
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    I think the last two posts from Digitalis and Former Trinity Mirror regional journo are absolutely spot on and make a mockery of anybody still moaning about this. As for WTF, I never mentioned the word “victory”. You did. The only victory is for common sense. Please see two the posts I mention above.

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  • January 4, 2016 at 4:06 pm
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    At the end of the day journalists are paid through advertising and advertising is derived from audience levels. Every journalist should welcome a benchmark that tells them how often their stories are read, and what response they generate. In the digital world everyone is accountable and measurable. Keep going Neil. The force is with you.

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  • January 5, 2016 at 9:58 am
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    “Every journalist should welcome a benchmark that tells them how often their stories are read, and what response they generate. In the digital world everyone is accountable and measurable.”

    This, ultimately, is the truth. Newspapers/websites exist to make money. Opposition to these targets has the whiff of Luddism.

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