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Editorial boss backs use of page view targets in ‘data-driven world’

IanCarterEditorialDirectorKM (1)An editorial boss has defended the idea of online targets in the regional press, while warning that the process must be a “two-way street” for publishers and reporters.

Iliffe Media editorial director Ian Carter has spoken out about Reach plc’s decision to implement new minimum page view targets for its regional journalists, calling the scheme an “interesting experiment”.

In a personal blog, Ian expressed qualified backing for Reach’s plan, saying: “If journalists feel it is helping them develop they will welcome it, if they see it as a big stick then they won’t.”

Iliffe does not run a similar page view target scheme for individual reporters at present, but does set goals for wider teams working on each of the company’s websites.

Under Reach’s plan, revealed by HTFP on Wednesday, news reporters who have been with the company for more than six months will be set minimum benchmarks of between 80,000 and 850,000 page views per month, depending on which title they work for and what their role is.

Journalists who fall below their “benchmark” number will be expected to have increased their monthly page views by between 35pc and 70pc by the end of 2022, according to documents seen by HTFP.

The National Union of Journalists has since confirmed it is in talks with Reach about the project, entitled Accelerated Personal Development, amid concerns that “constant and relentless scrutiny” will affect journalists’ wellbeing.

The announcement also prompted rival publisher Newsquest to reveal a page view target scheme it runs has led to hundreds of its journalists receiving bonuses over the past two years.

Ian, pictured, told HTFP: “Iliffe are fully focused on developing our digital audiences and recognise that setting goals for individuals and teams can play an important part in that.

“As everyone in the industry recognises, there are a lot of factors to consider to ensure people remain focused on stories that engage our most loyal readers. It has to be a two-way street, with reporters able to see the benefits to their own development.”

In his blog, Ian wrote:  “Handled badly this sort of initiative can be a slippery slope. How do you stop a reporter, finding themselves 10,000 page views short of their monthly target, taking the easy option and writing rubbish?

“You know the sort of thing. ‘The ten secret KFC menu hacks the Colonel doesn’t want you to know’. Or ‘I ate nothing but Colin the Caterpillar cakes for a month and it changed EVERYTHING.’

“But despite all the pitfalls, we live in a data-driven world and is there really anything so wrong with empowering journalists with the information we have so readily at our fingertips?

“And if we are giving them data on how their stories are performing, then surely the next logical step is to let them know whether or not those stories are performing well enough to justify the time they spent writing them and how they are benchmarking against the average for their newsroom?

“The devil is in the detail and such an intiative will succeed or fail on how it is implemented by managers locally – if journalists feel it is helping them develop they will welcome it, if they see it as a big stick then they won’t.

“But fundamentally is it wrong to encourage reporters to study their own data and do all they can to engage with a wider audience? Not in my book.

“At my company, we have been very open about the fact we need our journalism to eventually cover the entire cost of our journalists – it’s the best way to future-proof our business and independent media.

“That will come about in a variety of ways – digital subscriptions, partnerships with the tech platforms, syndication – but the basics of writing stories that attract a loyal and engaged audience to our websites and apps will always be central to what we do.

“Unless you have the luxury of being the BBC, we are always going to rely on advertising as one of our revenue streams.

“One thousand page views generate a lot less money than people probably think, and we can’t sit in an ivory tower publishing only the stories we want people to read rather than those they really do want to consume.”

“I’m not a fan of everything Reach do – the recent identikit stories about what would happen if Putin nuked Cardiff/Folkestone/Newcastle/insert town of your choice were something of a low point. (Spoiler alert, we’d all die).

“But I know enough people there well enough to know a lot of thought would have gone into the implementation – recognising the variances in different newsrooms, setting differing expectations based on experience levels and so forth – and it’s going to be an interesting experiment.”

HTFP has approached Reach for a response to Ian’s comments.