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Regional daily editor tells MPs page views are ‘not a dirty word’

Maria BreslinA regional daily’s editor has told MPs page views are not “a dirty word” and warned there is “no real evidence” readers would pay for news online.

Maria Breslin has told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism she would have “concerns” about the potential introduction of a paywall at the Liverpool Echo due to the cost of living crisis.

Maria, pictured, appeared before the Committee alongside David Floyd, managing director at London-based independent publisher Social Spider, and Karl Hancock, chief executive at hyperlocal news network Nub News.

During the session, Committee chair Julian Knight asked the panel whether it was possible to move to a pay model in local news from where the industry is now.

In response, Maria said: “I’d never say never, because obviously we have to innovate and we have to move forward and it’s a very fast-changing industry.

“I think it’s quite difficult at the moment when you have the BBC with a free model that’s ad-free. It’s very difficult to compete against that.”

“There’s no real evidence in this country that people are prepared to pay for local news. It’s not the same as it is in Scandinavia. or perhaps the US.

“Liverpool is not a wealthy city and we’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, so I would have conerns about that too. So it’s not something that’s currently on the agenda, but I would never say never.”

Mr Knight also asked Maria how success was measured for journalists at her title and the extent to which page views are used as an indicator of that.

As first reported on HTFP, Echo publisher Reach recently introduced page view targets for its reporters.

In response, Maria said: “Success for our political editor is quite different from success for our showbiz editor. They’re different metrics, they’re different values.

“We celebrate all forms of success, so page views are important to us and I don’t think they should be a dirty word, but at the same time, time spent, engagement, how much we infiltrate the local market – there are very many different key performance indicators we operate to.”

Exploring possible funding models, David cited the example of the London Borough of Barnet, where Social Spider operates the Barnet Post.

He said if 2,000 people in Barnet, which has a population of 400,000, were willing to pay £5 a month he would be able to employ two or three journalists.

David told the hearing: “We would love to have the opportunity to try to do that, but you’d have to put quite a lot into the investment to really push that and make that happen.”

Karl agreed that would be “the dream scenario” for Nub News, saying: “We need to build the audience, we need to build the revenues. If we did, then one year, two years, three years down the line I would love to have a subscription model.”

David and Karl stopped short of demanding direct Government funding, instead calling for reform of the public notice system and public advertising to help independent titles.

David said: “I personally don’t think we want to see Government bankrolling local news. I think that there’s dangers attached to that as well as positives, but I think that the Government can play a really important catalytic role and that’s what’s needed.”

Karl added: “Funding’s not the answer. The business model is broken. Something drastic has to happen and at the moment I’m not asking the Government for money, I’m asking for a level playing field.”