There’s so much media news in today’s dailies it’s hard to know where to begin. I’m going to largely ignore the JNLRs because (a) I’m no broadcasting expert and (b) there’s no great shift in the figures, so it’s not that big a deal. Probably the confirmation of a fairly open secret by the editor of the Irish Independent Stephen Rae that the Indo would begin charging for online content via what he termed a “leaky” paywall is the most significant.
It’s the first of the national dailies in Ireland to jump, and the move was inevitable. It’s the right decision, and probably at the right time. Under Rae’s editorship, the newspaper has slowed but not stopped the circulation decline (the drop in the latest ABCs was in percentage terms lower than in previous years) and the the Indo is now selling on average 124,000 daily copies. The new Indo website is a considerable improvement on what came before it, and the fact that The Irish Times re-designed site has become so cumbersome probably does the Indo no harm. What Rae needs to do is to continue to produce a strong daily newspaper, offer a substantially different premise online, and bring readers with him. He’s right that trust is the key issue, but it’s not easy to do. It was significant Rae re-positioned the newspaper as a news organisation rather than a ‘newspaper’ – this is a real signal that the Indo is finally taking digital seriously, and sees it as the future. He told an audience at a Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII) conference that the challenge is to remain a trusted brand. He is of course right, but his other significant challenge is to make it pay – that’s actually going to be the far more difficult task.
There are a couple of key things the Indo needs to increasingly do in the digital sphere, multimedia content is probably the most important of those. Along with print, video needs to be front and centre, with digital content driving readers for added value to the print edition and vice versa. Rae had positioned himself as an editor who understands digital, but he is also a hands-on backdesk editor. Word from the floor of the newsroom is that he is a joy to work with, and has a real grá for news. He now needs to beef up online. To do that he probably needs to offer a fairly substantially different package to what the paper currently offers, as well as providing a digital version of the paper. For example, the Indo needs to recognise the Journal as a real threat, and while it may not want to compete with it exactly in that space, it would be commercially foolish and editorially a mistake to ignore just how popular the Journal now is. Rae also needs strong data journalists, savvy editorial techies, snappy bloggers and sharp video reporters and editors – all that costs money of course, which is why the porus paywall is the right decision. If he offers a package worth paying for, I’ll be the first to sign up.
Incidentally, much is being made this morning on Twitter of Rae’s use of ‘mojo’ to refer to the company’s team of online and multimedia reporters. The term has been around for quite a while, the BBC have used it for at least three or four years. Not sure why the Twitterati in Ireland are getting so excited about it.