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Editor quizzes readers on what would make them pay for daily’s website

James MitchinsonA regional daily editor has asked readers what improvements would make them pay to read his title’s journalism online.

James Mitchinson, left, who edits the Yorkshire Post, is consulting people over what would make them “be prepared to back our journalism with your own hard-earned money”.

His call for suggestions comes after HTFP revealed in March that Post owner JPIMedia was set to trial paywalls on the websites of two of its other dailies – The News, in Portsmouth, and The Star, in Sheffield.

JPIMedia has since unveiled a new newsroom restructure trial, affecting titles in the North-East of England, which will see journalists move away from the print production process and concentrate on digital work.

The Leeds-based Post introduced online registration for readers last year in a move designed to prevent the use of ad-blocking software, with James justifying the move on the grounds that the paper’s “high quality journalism” needed to be paid for.

Posting on Twitter on Friday, James said: “I am always looking to improve as an editor and so the Yorkshire Post.

“Good editors put the views of their readers first, so: Q: What would you like The Yorkshire Post to be – online – such that you’d be prepared to back our journalism with your own hard-earned money?”

He has since received dozens of responses, including from journalists.

Gavin Aitchison, former news editor at York daily The Press, wrote: “I’d pay for compelling digi-first features, along the lines of the Guardian Documentaries.

“I think YP could also generate excellent stories by hosting events where marginalised groups meet the powerful, offering direct accountability and helping to depolarise some debates.”

And Daily Telegraph journalist Verity Bowman replied: “More investigations and features into life in northern cities. There are loads of topical issues that aren’t being touched by London-based papers, so you could take advantage.

“People in the north, especially working class, often don’t feel like they’re represented – you could fix this.”

Twitter user Bob Acer said he would be happy to pay for access to the Post online “just as it is” but Gerry Crookes, from PR firm Crux Communications,  urged the paper to “rise above the urge to introduce posts on social media with trite comments like ‘who would do such a thing’ & ‘what terrible news.”

Gerry added: “It’s irritating and damages the feeling of impartiality….it’s beneath the YP as I know and respect it.”

James declined to comment on the consultation when approached by HTFP, but wrote in a follow-up tweet: “Every response is being gathered for me to pore over. I’m overwhelmed, actually, with the quality of the feedback.

“I’ll make sure our next steps are in tune with that which the readers want.”

11 comments

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  • May 1, 2019 at 10:15 am
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    Oh for goodness sake!

    There are countless online news offerings that are already doing an excellent job of attracting strong readerships and have been for some time. This is because they’re doing what people want, writing the news. Yet as soon as one of the ‘traditionals’ talks about making moves online its seen as some kind of revolutionary moment.

    If you have to ask your readers what would make them read your news online, or even pay for it, then you really have forgotten what readers pick up a newspaper for, because it’s exactly the same.

    People want good quality news about the area they live in and the subjects that matter to them. They’re already getting this online, if they’re not reading it on your website then maybe its your content that’s the problem.

    Most of the websites from print newspapers is full of pop-up ads, making it impossible to read the news, full of unedited press releases and full of clickbait. Readers don’t want this.

    Print media as we know it is dead, adapt or die. It’s as simple as that.

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  • May 1, 2019 at 11:45 am
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    ‘Print media as we know it is dead’

    Utterly laughable. Good job you’re an online ‘journo’.

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  • May 1, 2019 at 12:11 pm
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    The quality and uniqueness of the offering will determine who comes,looks,stays and returns, so it’s up to the person driving the news agenda to provide sufficiently engaging content the public will be prepared to pay for,although with so much good localised material readily available for free elsewhere on line it will need to be something special or essential to persuade folk part with their hard earned money.
    However If you have to ask what to include or what they want to read to make them pay up it really is game over I’m afraid

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  • May 1, 2019 at 2:12 pm
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    Ok,we’ve been offering a product for free……..now what would you pay for it?
    Hmmm….I wonder how that would equate to the Metro and the London Evening Standard?

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  • May 1, 2019 at 2:52 pm
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    Instead of market research and questionnaires, work on building local knowledge and good contacts and you’ll find the good stories. The trouble with asking people what they want it that they’ll get what they want, ie a re-hash of the same-old, same-old. I preferred reading newspapers when they told me something I didn’t already know.
    Agree with old snapper – cost for readers should be minimal – it’s advertising that subsidises news. Don’t give away free advertising or copy and paste press releases which are basically advertising. If PR departments didn’t value press coverage they wouldn’t court it – make them pay.

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  • May 1, 2019 at 3:49 pm
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    The great thing about the web is that you can very quickly, easily and cheaply experiment.

    Get started, try lots of different things, A/B testing on a small proportion of your readers at at time, and do more of the stuff that works and none of the stuff that doesn’t. That’s the only way. Simple.

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  • May 1, 2019 at 5:18 pm
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    See this is the issue I speak about often. It’s complete backward thinking. You had great staff, local offices, titles in every location and names that were recognised in the community. Instead of cutting continuously, centralising, moving people off patch and creating hubs to save money you should have been investing in this future about 10-15 years ago and creating paid online entities when there was still something to monetise. People are not going to pay now. Most publishers are so far behind the curve they fell off the edge when it comes to what they offer online.
    Unfortunately that is this industry all over. Not a unique idea in site just the ability to cut and paper over the cracks to keep covering up the falling bottom line while patting each other on the back for a job well done.
    This industry could have branched off and gone in so many different directions with the networks it had up and down the country be that distribution, advertising, PR etc etc but alas it was a race to the bottom as long as the bonuses still come in at the top.

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  • May 1, 2019 at 5:27 pm
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    I appreciate they like to delegate more and more these days but the editor needs to decide what goes in the papers and on the websites,not the public.
    It’s YOUR job, it’s what you’re paid to do,they’ll decide soon enough whether what you’re putting out is worth paying for.

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  • May 2, 2019 at 9:08 am
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    The euphoria shown by many digital chiefs,crowing about site visitors and web traffic numbers,is dangerously misleading,fooling them into believing their content and online sites are more popular than they really are.
    Anything given away free will be readily taken, especially if it was something previously charged for and gives a completely false impression of its popularity,once a paywall is put in place,the true value and worth of the content and brand will soon be seen.
    Look at the rapid decline of local paid for papers once publishers put their content online, paid for copy sales fell, free to view web traffic increased,naively many saw this as a sign of growing popularly and relevance,supporting their view that low cost online news provision, rather than investing in established local papers and top notch journalism was the way forward,despite never showing what this increased web traffic is returning in cold hard revenue terms.

    It’s a big gamble which, if it fails and drives down visitor numbers, will put even more potential advertisers off and could hammer yet another costly nail into the main regional publishers already nail filled coffins.

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  • May 2, 2019 at 9:35 am
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    Forget the consultations and hand-wringing – the only way to find if a pay-wall will work is to install it and await results.

    As a large number of print readers of the regional press have already voted with their wallets; and given the dire nature of the average regional newspaper web offerings, if I were Mr Mitchinson, I would not hold my breath.

    Caught between he rock of a dwindling income and the hard place of providing costly worthwhile content, the regional press has very few options, and persuading readers to pay for something they enjoyed for free would not top my list.

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  • May 2, 2019 at 12:04 pm
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    Your readers need to feel like you sell something they want, that they can’t get anywhere else and at a price they’re willing to pay.

    If that doesn’t exist as a sustainable model then, sorry, you don’t have a business.

    The whole idea of asking you customers is farcical. Why? Well, two great quotes spring to mind:

    Steve Jobs: “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”

    Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

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