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Axed journalist’s ‘proper news’ website goes behind paywall

The founder of a regional news website run in competition with his former employer says he has secured enough money to fund the website for the next three months.

Former Cornish Guardian journalist Graham Smith’s venture Cornwall Reports is set to go behind a paywall from midnight tonight, but a crowdfunding campaign he ran following the site’s launch has raised more than £3,000.

As reported earlier this 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” for Trinity Mirror’s online arm Cornwall Live.

Trinity Mirror’s digital publishing director David Higgerson subsequently accused Graham of seeking to paint “a very inaccurate picture of the work done by fellow journalists” in explaining his reasoning for launching the site.

cornwallreports

Cornwall Reports was launched on a free trial basis just before Christmas and Graham has now also touted the possibility of introducing individual pages for more localised news to his site.

In a message to readers, he said: “Cornwall Reports was designed to serve the whole of Cornwall, and there is no shortage of news stories which are sufficiently important to meet that criteria.

“But at the same time I recognise that people have a real appetite for more community-focussed stories. I am looking at ways to set up pages specifically for this kind of content. It might take several months. But it is definitely part of the plan.

“I think the Cornwall-wide news has to take priority. But the beauty of a local news website is that it can grow to become whatever we want – or can afford.”

Once the site goes behind the paywall readers can pay a £30 annual subscription to read its content, while alternative tariffs starting at £1 are also available to suit more “casual readers”.

Graham has further announced that comments sections will not appear on individual stories in a bid to avoid “anonymous trolling”, but a dedicated letters page has been set up.

10 comments

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  • January 30, 2017 at 10:24 am
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    Graham
    Good to hear you’ve secured crowdfunding but might I ask how many paid subscribers you have tied I to the £30pa access deal ?

    Three months of backing is all very well and good and gets the wheels in motion but unless sufficient numbers of paying individuals sign up( even those popping the odd £1 into the hat) the funding will soon run out and the whole excercise will grind to a halt, especially as the original piece says you are not looking to sell advertising onto the site.
    With paying users and advertising being the only two sources of sustainable income,apart from the goodwill and support of friends or the initial ‘punts’ being made by the crowd funders,cold hard revenue will be the deciding factor as to the longevity or otherwise of this project.

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  • January 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm
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    This is an extremely interesting project to watch the progress of. I hope he succeeds.

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  • January 30, 2017 at 2:49 pm
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    As an afterthought I think it vital that “viewers” perceive local news webs as truly local. So many throw on news way off their patch just to act as clickbait, which waters down the local flavour somewhat. This is especially true of some of the bigger national companies.

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  • January 30, 2017 at 3:23 pm
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    Despite a crowdfunding pledge for three months I can’t see how this idea has progressed since the original piece went out
    http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2017/news/journalist-sacked-after-news-website-experiment-goes-live-with-project/

    whilst wishing him well, the comments views and opinions on the initial HTFP item are still valid, it’s a hugely flawed business plan which looks odds on to fail without sustainable and ongoing financial commitments.

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  • January 30, 2017 at 3:36 pm
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    Paperboy – it’s vital that local news sites provide local news, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also report national stories that have local relevance.

    I despair every time I see someone use the word “clickbait”, as no-one seems to know what it means. A non-local story is not clickbait. Clickbait means the story is written and presented in a particular way that entices people to click – but is ultimately disappointing to the reader when they arrive. It is a deceit and a misrepresentation.

    If you’re dismissing any kind of content that people want to read online as “clickbait”, then you’re writing off all digital journalism.

    Anyway, good luck to Graham, I hope he makes a success of it.

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  • January 30, 2017 at 4:28 pm
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    I really think this idea is doomed to fail as obvious basic business steps have either been overlooked or ignored, despite views and advice posted to the original piece.
    Surely it would have made sense for a new site to be launched free for say three months, to demonstrate and showcase the variety,quality and difference of content thus building up a following who could then be persuaded to pay for further access. At that time crowdfunding could have been sought to allow the site to develop further and grow, however with Graham not wanting paid for adverts and expecting folk to cough up £30 for a years access, now dropped to £1 to look it seems to me he is intent on ploughing on regardless doing his own thing, ignoring advice and with little realisation of the importance of a robust commercial plan to any business/site/news service, without one it’s a hobby project that will burn money as opposed to earn it.

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  • January 31, 2017 at 1:11 am
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    It’s a bold move by Graham and I hope he succeeds, if not least as a model for elsewhere. If it does work out in Cornwall then I can see it working even better for areas where many are affluent and ‘engaged’ e.g. Cambridge, Oxford.

    Does anyone know of any new (or old) locals that survive on a paywall rather than by ads?

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  • January 31, 2017 at 1:55 pm
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    Zenithar.
    I see your definition but I think the description Clickbait is justified when papers run stories on their website that are way off their patch and indeed are not used in the paper because they are not local. You can see examples everywhere, I see plenty in Midlands, usually involving tragedies or big incidents. There is a desperation for more clicks that drives hacks to do this, under orders I suspect.
    I like the immediacy of digital news, but it seems bosses of some websites cannot quite decide whether or not they are local.

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  • January 31, 2017 at 8:28 pm
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    A local newspaper’s primary function is and should be to report local news. In print, where space is limited, it makes perfect sense to devote that space only to local news.

    But online space is totally unlimited, so why not give people some national news as well?

    People are interested in national news, particularly if it has local relevance. For large newspaper groups with PA agreements and the ability to share stories between titles, some national news is easy to produce and popular. More audience means more revenue, more support for local journalism and more people on site reading local news. Why would you not want that?

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  • February 1, 2017 at 10:55 am
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    Zenithar. If that’s that why web bosses think people want from a local website go for it. There is certainly a need to maximise income from sites, which are still not making as much money as envisaged.
    Actually they are (perhaps unknowingly) only copying an idea from the 19th century when even weekly papers carried news from all over the world. Nothing new under the sun as they say.

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