Going digital: How one news group does it
Monday 30 November 2015
After a long worldwide career in Reuters editorial, Tom Thomson (photo) is managing editor of Scotland's Herald & Times Group. Like other media companies, it faces enormous challenges in adapting to the digital age. The Baron asked him how the newspaper group is tackling it.
Is the Herald profitable, and are its revenues rising?
The Herald is one of four titles in the group and all four are profitable. The others are the Sunday Herald, Evening Times and The National. Digital revenues are rising rapidly from advertising on our web sites - heraldscotland.com, eveningtimes.co.uk and thenational.scot - and subscriptions to heraldscotland.com and thenational.scot.
What proportion of its revenues come from Internet subscriptions, subscriptions for apps for smart phones and tablets, print?
The bulk of the company's newspaper division's revenue, some nine tenths, comes from print advertising and sales of the newspapers, with the balance from digital advertising and subscriptions.
Does the Herald make more money from subscriptions than advertising?
The Herald & Times Group makes considerably more from advertising than from subscriptions at present.
Is the Herald profitable just through its online subscriptions?
The Herald & Times Group would not be profitable from current levels of online subscriptions at present. But we pioneered the subscription model in the UK regional media market and we are very happy with revenue growth from subscriptions. Our readers accept that high-quality journalism costs money to produce.
What are the keys to success for newspapers in the digital age?
The key is unique, quality content and analysis of interest to a target audience whether online or in print. Digital allows us to add extra elements like video, interactive graphics, discussion forums, etc and to engage heavily with audiences using Facebook and Twitter.
Print has advantages in the visibility of adverts and the serendipity of story selection along with an appeal for many readers of long-form journalism in a format they find easier to digest.
Have there been changes in the popularity of stories in the digital age?
Good journalism still attracts readers but online we can be more adventurous and quirky than in print. The trick is to provide content that has wide appeal to our readers while still remaining true to the brand values of the titles.
Some newspapers such as The Economist and Financial Times plan to continue producing print versions indefinitely, as they represent the brand. What about the Herald?
We plan to continue producing print as long as our readers want it. Almost uniquely in the UK print business, we launched a new print title one year ago which has been a success. The National is avowedly in favour of Scottish independence and has created a whole new print market and a diversity of opinion that was absent in Scotland.
Has the Herald cut the number of journalists it employs in recent years, and is the trend now upwards or downwards?
In line with nearly all newspaper groups, we have reduced the number of journalists by introducing new technology and focusing on staff who create rather than manipulating content. For example, our titles largely use templated pages rather than each one being drawn from scratch which both saves manpower and is invisible to readers.
Have journalists had to change their practices to adapt to digitisation? Have editorial conferences gone digital too?
Our writers and photographers now consider themselves platform agnostic, i.e. they create content which can end up in print or online or both. But the main change has been to bring urgency to our daily paper operations, not unlike a news agency like Reuters. Staff now also make considerable use of social media not only to seek out stories but to engage with our readers and drive traffic to our web sites.
Editorial conferences now focus heavily on digital but also how to use print cleverly to add value or interpretation to stories or throw them forward, assuming most print readers already know the facts of most stories from digital or radio or TV.
PHOTO: Managing editor Tom Thomson in the Herald & Times Group newsroom, Glasgow ■