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Journalist sacked after news website ‘experiment’ goes live with project

graham-smith-cornwallA weekly journalist who was sacked after trying to launch a separate news website for the same patch is going head to head with his former employer.

Graham Smith, pictured left, has founded Cornwall Reports in opposition to Cornwall Live, the online arm of three Trinity Mirror newspapers including the Cornish Guardian, where Graham worked from 2014 until last month.

Graham was suspended and later dismissed from the Guardian after “experimenting” with the side project, which he set up with a view to providing what he terms “proper news” after being asked to write what he claims was “trivial clickbait.”

He now plans to put the advertisement-free site behind a paywall with subscribers paying £1 a week to accesss it.

He says he initially proposed to his bosses that he launch a paywall website for TM in Cornwall, but was suspended after continuing with the project.

Said Graham: “I was being asked to write what I regard as trivial clickbait, but I’m old enough and grumpy enough not to take things that lightly.

“I made the mistake of telling [Trinity Mirror] I was thinking of launching my own website with the intention that they might like to do it, a paywalled website to do proper news.”

But a Trinity Mirror source told HTFP: “It’s disappointing that Graham has resorted to making disparaging comments about the work of his former colleagues simply to promote his own pet project.”

Graham, who began his career on the Cambridge News in 1976, and has also worked for both the BBC and ITV in local television, launched Cornwall Reports just before Christmas, having left TM on 12 December.

The site, which is aimed at people in Cornwall who are interested in news about public policy issues, will go behind a paywall at the end of the month, with subscribers paying £1 a week or £30 a year to read it.

Graham told HTFP: “A relatively small but dependable target market means the project should work. A pure and simple hard paywall is a really easy business model to get your head round.”

While there are currently no adverts on the site, Graham hasn’t ruled out allowing “appropriate and discreet” ads on non-news pages in future, and plans to consult with subscribers on the issue.

A Trinity Mirror spokesman said: “Since the launch of Cornwall Live last year we have seen a significant uplift in engaged local readers – audience numbers have risen sharply, they are staying on the site for longer and returning more often.

“We are proud of our talented journalists at Cornwall Live and what they have achieved, reaching more people online in Cornwall than ever before. We wish Graham Smith the best of luck with his website.”

12 comments

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  • January 11, 2017 at 9:35 pm
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    Well, he’s really thought that business model through

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  • January 12, 2017 at 9:51 am
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    Whilst wishing graham and anyone bold enough to set up their own independent news business it does appear the business model needs work. To launch without the firm commercial backing of a number of advertisers comitted long term to the few advertising positions I assume will be made available is a very risky strategy. Couple that with expecting people to immediately pay a fee to access content without a trial free period or until a readership and traffic base is established further compounds the difficulties in making this site a success.
    The danger with any new venture such as this and when up against an established competitor is that it has to be better, different and it’s existence known, As the old saying goes ” you only get one chance to make a first impression ” and if you get it wrong and it misfires from the off the venture could prove irrecoverable

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  • January 12, 2017 at 1:51 pm
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    What started out as a side project has resulted in him being sacked so now this simply has to work as i assume this is his main source of income,however ,reading the plan in the piece i just cant see where enough income will come from to fund the site from apaywall alone?
    .With a reliance on the public paying to access and read the content,with no adverttisers and him “not ruling out” a few in the future i can only see this venture failing to lift off.
    His first mistake appears to have been telling TM of his plans (or suggestions) rather than leaving to set up the business from the off. and yes,whilst “..A pure and simple hard paywall is a really easy business model to get your head round.” in theory it is but it hasnt worked and been monetised anywhere in the regional press even with huge financial support of the bigger news groups behind the idea.people wont pay for what they can get free nor will they support a paid for site that has no established presence and one they dont know,why would they?
    so sorry Graham whilst its very laudable to want to provide a proper news service( not sure what that is?) and to avoid click bait, i sincerely wish you well but in the words of the Dragons Den,its a nice idea,i cant see it working so for that reasoni`m out

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  • January 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm
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    Clickbait is career defining, sadly. The stuff on my local JP weekly website makes me weep for journalism.

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  • January 12, 2017 at 9:33 pm
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    Some clickbait can be interesting, stories which wouldn’t have the space in a paper with dozens of photos. He’d be better starting a freebie monthly paper, can’t imagine many will pay £30 a year for the work of one reporter knocking out a couple of stories a day. He doesn’t sound like someone who will work more than 5 days a week, let alone a 8hr day.

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  • January 12, 2017 at 11:22 pm
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    I like what Graham is trying to do and hope he succeeds. A fast loading website where you can just read news without a pop up every five minutes or ’10 reasons to love….’ is like a breath of fresh air – unfortunately though I’m not sure if people will pay for it.

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  • January 13, 2017 at 12:21 am
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    This doesn’t bode well I’m afraid ,I don’t understand what ‘ not news pages’ are? Surely all pages on a news based website are news pages?
    If not just what will be on these non news pages ?
    Any potential advertiser will only want to appear on a page with news on it as these are the pages that will generate the most web traffic?
    And again if its yes or no to advertising by asking his subscribers then surely this venture is likely to crash and burn in rapid quick time unless the number of paying subscribers far out weighs the potential loss of advertising revenue in the event of them saying no to adverts, it surely can’t survive on a paywall alone when no ones making paywalls pay.
    I would like to think this idea had all the hallmarks of success as the big grouos do need good strong local competitors but I honestly do wonder if Mr Smith underside the on line medium and has thought this through from a commercially viable perspective as the whole plan seems flawed on so many levels

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  • January 13, 2017 at 12:22 pm
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    We all want the little man to succeed in the face of the big lumbering old dinosaurs but this has to be one of the worst thought out business plans ever, I just hope he hasn’t invested any hard earned money in what will surely be a complete disaster

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  • January 13, 2017 at 12:51 pm
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    Rather than having proposed the idea to Trinity Mirror (which generally doesn’t get one sacked for serious misconduct) Smith was rumbled when his website was discovered.
    Apparently the look on his face was priceless.

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  • January 13, 2017 at 3:19 pm
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    After reading AnneNorths post it just goes from bad to worse!
    smith clearly has no understanding of the online market nor the practicalities and realities of funding a commercial website,he also seems, like many journalists, to see advertisers as unnecessary intruders, not realising or appreciating the need for them to finance what he calls’ the project’

    It’s just a shame that this Ill thought out sideline, that he has started whilst in the pay of an employer has blown up in his face and his disloyal action has cost him his job. I’m no fan of the big regional news groups but anyone biting the hand that feeds them gets all they deserve

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  • January 19, 2017 at 11:05 am
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    Trinity Mirror will not tolerate dissent amongst the ranks. Freedom is slavery, etcetera.

    Their Digital Revolution is more of a danse macabre. They won’t be around too long.

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