The editorial director of Trinity Mirror’s regional titles has moved to quell fears that staff could lose their jobs for failing to meet new web traffic targets.
Trinity Mirror is set to roll out plans for individual web audience targets for journalists in the New Year following a pilot project in the West Midlands.
The National Union of Journalists claims the move will undermine public interest journalism and encourage so-called “clickbait” and is balloting members on industrial action over the plans.
But Neil Benson, TM’s editorial director, regionals, says the project is about giving all journalists the skills to help build digital audiences, not getting rid of those who failed to meet their goals.
In a comment posted on HTFP’s report on the NUJ ballot, Neil said: “In one of our briefing sessions, it was asked if writers would be sacked if they fall short of their goals. The answer is no.
“This is about giving all of our staff the skills to build their appropriate share of the overall audience, to focus on creating content that is well read and encourages repeat visits, and to enable us to achieve the growth that will lead to a sustainable digital business.
“Audience goals will be reviewed monthly, with peaks and troughs in the news cycle taken into account. This is not about the figures for a single month but about writers producing content that reaches a worthwhile and growing audience consistently.
“The level of individual writers’ audience goals will vary depending on the beat being covered. Clearly, football stories are likely to generate more traffic than, say, council stories. That will be reflected in individual writers’ goals.”
Neil, pictured above, told HTFP that the rollout of the project would be accompanied by a training programme to ensure journalists had the tools to enable them to meet their targets, with newsdesks playing a key role.
He also insisted that while listicles, photo galleries and other “non-news” content would play a part in the content mix, they would not be the “dominant elements.”
He said: “As we have explained to our journalists and the NUJ, journalism – and, specifically, local news and sport coverage – will be at the heart of our content offering. These are our key strengths, they are what make us unique and they will be central planks in building a loyal, local audience.
“But to achieve our aim of being the turn-to digital source in the regions we cover, news and sport alone are not enough. We need to provide a raft of other content, from traffic and travel updates to ‘news you can use’ and non-news content that entertains and engages a substantial audience, stimulating them to return to our sites more frequently.
“So listicles, picture galleries and other light content have their place in the content mix but will not be the dominant elements.
“This is no different to the typical mix of content in any print edition, where non-local, non-journalism content is an important part of the total package.
The NUJ is balloting members at Trinity Mirror chapels in Birmingham, Coventry, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and North Wales over the company’s digital audience goals.
Ballot papers are due to go out today and tomorrow with the ballot remaining open for two weeks.