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Journalist’s clickbait claims are ‘unfounded nonsense’ says Trinity Mirror boss

Gareth-Davies-new-e1463476484158A former weekly reporter’s claims that his old paper has become “a thrown together collection of clickbait” has been dismissed as “unfounded” and “nonsense” by its parent company’s chief executive.

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.”

15 comments

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  • August 1, 2016 at 2:23 pm
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    It took a surprisingly long time for HTFP to get around to reporting this, and I’m slightly perplexed at the angle. Anyone who has read any of the many stories on this site will be well aware of the damage TM has inflicted on the titles it purchased from Local World (which itself was far from a caring owner). I’m afraid I don’t think this article reflects very well on HTFP, try speaking to some of the staff left in what are becoming ghost newsrooms.

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  • August 1, 2016 at 2:53 pm
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    I’m pretty sure his redundancy paperwork would have clauses on talking about his former employer. So suggest he keeps his mouth shut.
    If you have a point to make, do it anonymously.
    The most profitable clickbait machine is Mailonline, I’m a sucker for clicking and sometimes generating content for the beast myself.

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  • August 1, 2016 at 3:20 pm
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    This whole scale obsession is doomed.

    Ask The Guardian how their digital revolution went. Then ask The Times how their ‘suicidal’ paywall has worked out.

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  • August 1, 2016 at 3:21 pm
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    Gareth is only saying what many, many reporters are thinking and feeling. When you see ‘news’ organisations live blogging the opening of a new Poundland or similar you know things have gone very, very wrong.

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  • August 1, 2016 at 3:27 pm
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    I can see where GD is coming from; equally, I appreciate TM has to respond to change, perhaps the profoundest and fastest ever in media history, an aspect Neil Benson touches on. However, you have to ask if a top-heavy corporation is the best commercial structure for a news company now. I would ask Simon Fox and his board to consider the irony of, rightly, espousing 21st technology, while stuck in a late 19th century American business model with huge cost centres at every superfluous level. Radical change – and I mean truly radical rather than just tweaking the old model – could deliver even more profits than we see in today’s announcement, while enhancing the core journalistic values GD holds dear. News is still alive, kicking and capable of yielding alpha (big dough), as we City types say. It’s just the corporate dinosaur that’s extinct.

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  • August 1, 2016 at 3:38 pm
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    Strange comment Dave. I doubt any such redundancy clause would be legally enforceable and can you imagine the outcry if a publisher took a former employee to court to silence him anyway?

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  • August 1, 2016 at 4:10 pm
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    “If you want a picture of the future, imagine Trinity Mirror stamping on a human face—forever.”

    ― George Orwell, 1984

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  • August 1, 2016 at 4:19 pm
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    I’m torn between admiring this lad’s courage and counselling caution at the prospect of making an enemy of the company which could end up being the only major player in his chosen profession.
    And I think Dave S makes a good point about the redundancy settlement. I signed a ‘compromise agreement’ when I left Trinity’s employ and I was left in no doubt that badmouthing the company publicly after I’d got my hands on the cash was not an option. Breach that clause and Trinity may be legally entitled to take your redundo back off you. It wouldn’t be great PR on Trinity’s part, but it would have a great chilling effect.

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  • August 1, 2016 at 4:20 pm
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    clickbait in its many and varied forms is deemed to be the way forward for regional press groups who are desperate to register site traffic,or as Archant have just shown with their “partnering” with outbrain, scraping a few pounds per click via redirected and wholly irellevant “sponsored content”
    rather than concentrate on improving their on line offerings,copy and content that readers would be interested in reading or clicking through to genuinely supportive content, the focus seems to be to monetise digital sites and content any which way they can.

    Rather than focus on expanding the piece to make it more readable or informative,the effectiveness of all content is and will be measured by its “click ability”
    sad but true

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  • August 1, 2016 at 9:11 pm
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    “I’m pretty sure his redundancy paperwork would have clauses on talking about his former employer. So suggest he keeps his mouth shut.
    If you have a point to make, do it anonymously.”

    I despair. I really do. Here’s how it is. If you have something to say, say it openly, honestly and as loudly as you can.

    WTF is this anonymous nonsense. The anonymity thing is for the gutless, the timid and those who value keeping their noses clean more than they value their integrity.

    Well done Gareth, you’ve obviously rattled a lot of cages. Best thing to do is to give them some more of the same.

    Copious amounts of beer on me if ever we meet. I’m impressed.

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  • August 2, 2016 at 11:40 am
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    TM CEO Simon Fox dismissed Gareth’s criticism as “unfounded” and “nonsense”.

    He would say that, wouldn’t he?

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  • August 2, 2016 at 11:55 am
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    Well done to you, Gareth. In my eyes, you’ve certainly come out of this with more credit than some of the top brass at Trinity Mirror and their thinly-veiled barbs. The same people who were hailing you as ‘outstanding’ when you were picking up awards a matter of months ago are now suggesting you are ‘arrogant’ and ‘can’t handle the pace’, which I find quite appalling.
    Quite how Mr Benson feels staff at Trinity are invigorated is beyond me. I was lucky enough to escape a Trinity centre this year, and the office was packed with people hoping to be next out of the door. It really was a bleak operation.
    By the way, I have noted Trinity’s record profits recorded this week. It would be interesting to see the gigantic hole blown in that figure if more staff who were working 50-hour weeks were actually being paid for their overtime.

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  • August 2, 2016 at 12:21 pm
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    In true clickbait style; “newspaper publishers hate him..”

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  • August 2, 2016 at 12:53 pm
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    Loyalty and trust for newspapers – and their websites – comes from excellent local content. Pursuing scale, for which TM can’t ever match the likes of a Facebook, cannot work in the long-term. It’s an erosion of trust with the reader, over time. Very sad.

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  • August 2, 2016 at 1:49 pm
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    Trinity certainly whipped-in the big guns to explain that their -ex-employee was completely wrong.

    He obviously touched a raw nerve as they normally don’t bother responding to anything,

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