Sharp differences over the role of newspaper websites dominated the debate at the Society of Editors conference in Glasgow today.
But media consultant Jim Chisholm insisted there was no evidence that newspaper circulations had been damaged by the rise of the internet.
And Darren Thwaites, editor of Teesside’s Evening Gazette, defended the policy of giving away news content for free, saying the priority was to grow the title’s audience both in print and online.
Speaking at a session entitled ‘It ain’t broke and we’re fixing it,’ Darren said he believed a bigger threat to circulation was the decline of traditional newsagents.
“We do give away our content for free and we are making money online,” said Darren, who revealed that the Gazette had made more than £1m from online advertising, part of £16m of overall online revenues for Trinity Mirror regional titles.
But Derek, who is stepping down as P&J editor in the New Year, said his priority was the printed product and he did not want to risk damaging that by giving away all content for free.
He said: “We have not sold our souls on creating an all-singing, all-dancing website. We have always adopted a stricter attitude to the industry norm.”
Derek said that not all P&J stories were uploaded to the newspaper’s websites, and none were uploaded before they had appeared in the paper.
He said his priority was the paying customers, either those buying the printed newspaper or those who subscribed to a PageSuite digital edition, and he would ensure they received content before people viewing the website.
Hartlepool Mail editor Joy Yates said: “Exclusive stories to the Hartlepool Mail will remain exclusive to the printed product. Anything that is in the public domain will go on the website.
“We are trying to make the two products very different so they sit side by side.”
Speaking earlier at a session entitled ‘What is our audience?’ Jim Chisholm said papers which did well on the internet were actually likely to have good circulations also.
Jim told the conference: “There’s no statistical evidence that the internet has damaged circulation more than any other factors. I have not been able to find any statistical evidence to show this is the case.
“It is the case that newspapers which do well on the internet do well with circulation.
“I know there’s a perception and the editors are saying their circulations are declining because of the internet but an editor’s view is not statistical fact.”
Mail online editor Martin Clarke also spoke up in favour of newspaper websites in a session entitled ‘Winning Online, saying: “Success online does not mean failure in print.”
However Martin admitted that if his web team brought in an exclusive story, it would go in the paper before it went online. “If you put an exclusive online, it’s only an exclusive for about thirty seconds,” he said.