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Party political wraps are ‘good sign’ says digital chief

Party political wraparounds are a “good sign” that politicians want to use the local press to engage with voters, a digital publishing chief has claimed.

Trinity Mirror Regionals digital publishing director David Higgerson has spoken out in the ongoing debate over Conservative Party advertisements which appeared on the front of many local papers last week.

While a number of editors who published the advert have since defended the editorial neutrality of their titles, a group of Westmorland Gazette readers are petitioning the paper to apologise for running it.

The National Union of Journalists has also waded into row, calling on publishers to do more to protect the “editorial integrity” of their titles.

Exeter Tory

But, on his personal blog, David wrote: “In a way, the fact that the Tory wrap is making a noise in 2017 is proof that the ad is doing its job.

“Does it challenge the independence of newspapers? No. Does it represent newspapers ‘selling their soul’ as one of ex-editor suggested on Twitter? No. Is it a good sign that a political party, after several elections of largely ignoring the regional press, are looking at us as a way to communicate with voters once again? I would argue yes.

“The real election story of last week for the regional press was created in town halls, sport centres and function suites up and down the country.

“In many cases, we were the only media representatives there to witness seats being won, seats being lost, guards being changed and political careers beginning or ending.”

However, National Union of Journalists acting general secretary Séamus Dooley has urged editors and publishers to take steps to “protect the editorial integrity of their titles” in the wake of the row.

He said: “Journalists on local newspapers are gravely concerned at the blurring of lines between editorial content and advertising. There has been a strong backlash from readers as a result of wraparound advertising purchased by political parties and presented in a news format.

“The advertising is clearly designed to convey the impression of a news story and incorporates the paper masthead. There is a long, proud tradition of clearly differentiating between news and adverting, even in newspapers which adopt a partisan editorial line, and that principle should not be abandoned.

“Party political advertising is a legitimate feature of campaigning and there is no doubt that media organisations welcome the additional revenue. But, disguising advertising as news and effectively hijacking a newspaper masthead for any political party or candidate is an entirely different matter and is a cause of concern.

“The masthead should be a symbol of editorial independence and it is clear many readers, of all political persuasions and none, are opposed to this trend.

“Newspapers play an important role in shaping public opinion and can influence the outcome of an election. We will be monitoring the use of wraparound advertising very carefully and would ask editors and publishers to take steps to protect the editorial integrity of their titles.”


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  • May 10, 2017 at 7:29 am

    As TM grabbed the money for party political wraps and to quote a famous 1960s saying” well he would wouldn’t he”
    My comments on HTFP yesterday with regards to his damage limitation still stands

    A classic case of wanting the cake and eating it, take the money for wraps and lose credibility with many readers who’ll accuse the paper and publisher of bias then try to laugh it off by brushing it aside claiming it’s a good sign.
    The clearest sign here is that anything is for sale as long as the price is right including integrity

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  • May 10, 2017 at 9:47 am

    To be fair, anyone left at the top of the industry now will be true believers anyway, there’s probably very little a news organisation could do now that would horrify them.

    All the men and women most likely to fight the profession’s corner were purged long ago, while the type of people who’d go on the radio defending mass job cuts among their colleagues are now enjoying some grandiose made up job title, executive editor for the universe or some such.

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  • May 10, 2017 at 11:04 am

    You’re spot on as is employee X
    Sales figures are so bad they’ll take any money they can, even if it means selling their front page to the highest bidder then justify it by putting lame spin on it as being a sign of popularity which underlines how out of touch or in denial with the markets these people are.
    Higgerson wil no doubt dress it up as a view but it’s his job to clean up any mess after all and try to defend this type of mess so he can’t expect anyone to take his views seriously.
    With all the true professionals purged and real passionate editorial people long gone it’s no wonder the industry’s on its knees and scraping around for any loose change it can scoop up and at any cost.

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  • May 10, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Surely David, would not a “digital wrap” brought in more revenue….?

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  • May 10, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    I’ve grown accustomed to Dave’s alternative reality takes as he attempts to defend the indefensible (stupid clickbait etc), but this one is a real classic.

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  • May 10, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    I mean, what else can he say? Dog bites man etc.
    But these are desperate times for newspapers. Can we blame them for grabbing any lifebelt that bobs in the water as the rudderless industry sinks and plunges new depths?

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  • May 10, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Somehow the phrase “editorial integrity” seems to have been lost in the war of words. The fact is that the ads are dressed up to look like editorial. Ok that brings in the money but it puts off the readers. At the risk of sounding cynical I suppose as too many papers have far fewer readers before – not just because of the internet but also because of management interfering to ensure money comes before professional integrity – then it doesn’t really matter if a few more are lost as that just hastens the inevitable – the closure of yet another publication. Or am I being naive and cynical.

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  • May 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    The blog post I wrote was meant to be a celebration of the great front pages and coverage many titles gave to local elections last week. I mentioned the wraps not to defend them, but because I thought it would have been odd not to. And I just offered up what I thought might be a bit of a silver lining to add to the debate.

    The example I used, of the Chorley Citizen (the first paper I worked on), couldn’t have been confused for editorial content by anyone who regularly reads the newspaper.

    There are a lot of assumptions being made on here about my motivations for doing so and having to do so, and not caring about editorial integrity, none of which are true. Sadly, I suspect many of the comments on here suggest there isn’t really a desire for a debate about the industry/profession/trade we all love, just a reaffirming of the opinions those commenting already hold.

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  • May 10, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    The attempts at justification and back peddling just gets worse

    Pass a spade someone….

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  • May 11, 2017 at 6:23 am

    David H says he wanted to stimulate debate? Here’s a point to discuss then
    Many I’ve spoken to about the issue of party political wraps,both industry workers and friends unconnected with newspapers, are all of the same opinion, that irrespective of whether the wrap looks like an editorial news piece or whether it’s seen as a promotional bought and paid for message why does the newspaper carry them as opposed to its true front covers?
    Is there any justification, other than financial,for publishers to allow anyone to take over their front and back pages and give the promotion further credibility by carrying the publishers branding : their mast head above it ?
    If these wraps were simply four pages of clear cut adverts around the paper without a masthead they would look just as awful but no one would see them as anything other than that : adverts.
    Blending them in to look exactly like the papers front cover simply increases the chance of misinterpretation.

    My question is should publishers carry wraps at all?
    I’ve not seen any that look anything other than cheap and nasty, they add nothing to the paper other than money,and that’s where the integrity question comes in; what’s more important; a quick buck? or the look feel and credibility of the newspaper?
    Publishers have a simple choice, take the money and accept the fall out, or stop taking wraps and get the ad reps to sell the benefits of running four pages of advertising inside.
    If these promotions were placed centre paper and clearly tagged as advertising they’d be just as noticeable to the reader but without any confusion as to it being a news piece.
    As money is the dominant and primary factor for local papers these days the odds will be stacked against a publisher turning wraps away but it comes down to how much importance they put on their own credibility and integrity.

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  • May 11, 2017 at 10:43 am

    David Higgerson says “..I mentioned the wraps not to defend them…”

    Please could I ask what his view on them is then?
    Should publishers take party political wraps, even with ‘advertisers announcement’ on them, or not?

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  • May 11, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Although I can just about make out the words ‘Advertiser’s Announcement’, I think the design is sailing pretty close to the wind as far as ASA regulations are concerned: this looks very like a newspaper style to me, and that means there is a substantial risk of readers being misled into thinking it is a genuine front page.
    The thing about wraps is that there is absolutely no possibility of putting the genie back in the bottle with this one. They need the money, and this is a way of getting it, although I bet they didn’t sell the space for nearly enough (look at what happened to full page rates).

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  • May 11, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    One thing those making the decisions at newspapers never seem to get for some reason is that it takes years to build credibility, and only one edition to lose it all.

    Yes, having a wrap might keep the lights on for another month, but how many people who’ve been dabbling with the idea of not buying the paper any more will have been pushed over the edge?

    It’s the same when they make cuts to, say, subs. Spelling mistakes and basic errors get through, the paper loses credibility. I know local papers which are now actually laughed at because they’re so shoddily put together.

    This is the only industry I can think of that does this and then blames everyone else for its plight.

    It’s like if Ford produced a new car with one of the wheels replaced by a turnip, and then blamed the fact people didn’t want to buy it on ‘challenging economic conditions’.

    I’ve raised this point many a time, but why doesn’t the magazine industry follow the same model as newspapers? Yes it’s struggling, but pick one off the shelf and it’s usually superbly designed and written – still.

    If you bought 442 and it features a story about Tottenham United and carried a UGC image of the back of Ronaldo’s head, would you buy it again? No, so why should you buy a local paper that does exactly the same thing?

    Let’s not patronise people here with talk of the interwebs and credit crunch and whatnot, this is purely and simply a hierarchy trying juice an entire industry as much as they can while the going is still possible, because they’ve got absolutely no clue, and probably no interest, in stopping its decline.

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  • May 11, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Jeff jones makes very good points as do others on here
    In my experience local magazines,especially the quality independent ones in my area, are superb, they are well planned, well designed ( using the best local designers not ones based on another continent and who communicate via emails) well run, well received and are profitable.
    Why are they successful when facing the same market conditions and ‘challenges’ as the bigger groups?
    Because they put the focus on quality content which engages its readership and have a superb commercial sales operation in support selling the advertising , they’re doing all the things and more we used to do but no longer can due to changed priorities,lack of front line staff and wirh a focus on cost controls and grabbing money as opposed to producing quality products people want to buy, read and advertise in.

    The independents get the basics right wirh staffing kept to a sufficient level but no more,everyone responsible with a role to play,with no deadwood and no multi levels of managers incurring costs but producing nothing, they’re also pretty much entirely staffed by some of the best ex regional press writers and ad sales people no longer deemed of use to the bigger groups.
    No wonder ad reps struggle to sell adverts into the ailing and dire weekly and daily papers that so few people are buying ,resulting in the publishers having to take any ad revenue they can get their hands on,political electioneering cover wraps included and regardless of whether it’s compromising their integrity by doing so
    Sadly regional publishers are too entrenched in old methods,vast numbers of unproductive staff and out of control costs to be able to compete with the new media and new publishers thriving across the regions.

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  • May 15, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Since local papers have a very poor reach now (my local has plunged from a peak 20,000 plus a week to about 2,000 in an area of about 200,000 people) ) I would keep my money if I was a political group.

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