Trinity Mirror CEO Simon Fox hit back after Gareth Davies, left, took to Twitter on Friday to denounce the quality of the Croydon Advertiser, which was taken over as part of the company’s purchase of Local World.
In a series of tweets, which prompted a social media debate on the state of the regional press, he said reporters were being denied the chance to meet contacts unless they could guarantee it resulting in a story, and claimed they needed to ask permission to write stories likely to generate less than 1,000 page views online.
Gareth, the four-times winner of the Weekly Reporter of the Year prize at the Regional Press Awards, took voluntary redundancy fron the Advertiser in June as part of a newsroom shake-up across TM’s South-East titles.
He tweeted: “V. sad that this is what Trinity has reduced @croydonad to: running crap listicles in the paper on consecutive pages…..a paper with a proud 147-year history reduced to being a thrown together collection of clickbait written for the web.”
“It breaks my heart. I couldn’t stick around to watch the paper be destroyed & I would not help them do it.”
The tweets, posted over a 90-minute period late on Friday evening, led to a debate online involving, among others, Gareth’s former editor Glenn Ebrey, who said he painted a “very sad, and regrettably, accurate picture”, and Sky News presenter Kay Burley.
But, speaking to City AM, Simon dismissed Gareth’s criticism as “unfounded” and “nonsense”.
He said: “We love regional journalism. If we don’t have an audience, we don’t have a business. And any suggestions that somehow we don’t love quality content is just a nonsense.
“Somehow suggesting, as he has, that we won’t cover anything that has less than 1,000 page views, or 1,000 users, that is simply not true.”
Regional editorial director Neil Benson added: “The culture at the Croydon Advertiser, particularly since Gareth left and we introduced the new structure, has been one of positivity.
“In fact the Croydon Advertiser is thriving in the new structure and has had its best print performance for years. Some journalists are up for that change of pace; others are not.
“The idea that Trinity Mirror is hell-bent on destroying the media industry is incomprehensible. Nobody cares more about the local media industry in the UK or has more of an interest in the it succeeding than Trinity Mirror.
“The changes we make are about achieving exactly that – ensuring that there is a future for these newsbrands.
“People don’t consume news like they used to, newsbrands have to evolve to compete and the industry has to adapt or die. The only way we can do this is by building a strong, local and engaged audience. Yes, we are obsessed with audience, because without it we don’t exist.
“This means adapting to the way the world, consumers and media have changed by covering broader content on top of just news and sport, presenting content in different ways and embracing digital and new ways of doing journalism.
“It also means having a newsroom with the right structure, tools and skills to deliver that, but within the financial constraints necessary as the revenue model changes. We won’t apologise for operating a business in a prudent and professional way.
“As publishers the country and world over are realising, you have to make a profit to survive and you have to have an audience of significant scale. Without an audience there is no sustainable future.”
Neil added: “Journalists have to think like their audience, cover the questions and concerns they are likely to have and present stories in a way that makes them want to read it.
“The days when reporters could choose, arrogantly, to write about what interests them, rather than what interests the audience, are over.”
Trinity Mirror digital publishing director David Higgerson also took to his personal blog to respond to some of Gareth’s points, stating the company had not “banned” stories would generate fewer than 1,000 page views, or instructed reporters to seek permission on that matter.
David said journalists were encouraged to engage with readers on social media, claiming reporters could drive a big spike in web traffic just by linking to a story via Facebook or Twitter.
He continued: “Away from audience engagement, it’s critical we tap into new ways to tell stories online so more people are interested in them.
“In his tweets, Gareth is critical of live coverage of events – yet time and again a live blog of a council meeting has attracted more people to our coverage of that meeting and those decisions than the more traditional way of telling the story would.
“It’s not enough – any more – for us as journalists to say ‘this is important, therefore we’ll do it.’ There is little point in writing something because we think it’s important for readers to know about, but not to think how to get readers to read it in the first place. That might ensure we feel we’ve done our job, but what difference will we have made?
“In paying attention to audience metrics – and page views is just one indicator, although I appreciate that engagement metrics such as time spent on site, shares of an article and repeat visits also unsettle some journalists – we aren’t saying ‘stop doing this’ we’re saying ‘How do we make more people aware of this?'”
After David published his blog, Gareth accused him of focusing on one particular tweet, ignoring the “vast majority” of what he had said.
He added: “Indicative of the problem. Coming from someone who believes there isn’t a problem with level of advertising on local paper websites, I’m not surprised.”