An insight into the business of business news with the Manchester Evening News’ head of business, Adam Jupp, underlines the eternal enigma of “the media”.
Just when you think you understand a new media direction and the way journalists work, the media will spring a surprise. But, as the appreciative audience at yesterday’s Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce event in Stockport showed, there is no shortage of fascination with the work of the Fourth Estate.
While the moniker, “evening” newspaper, was always flawed (so-called evening newspapers, traditionally, have initial deadlines of 9.30am), Jupp emphasised how the “evening” element of the Manchester Evening News (MEN) was now truly redundant.
Taking a “web first” principal, the work of news gathering and reporting is no longer based around print deadlines. Instead, the journalists’ work is driven by the demands of readers who are visible, in real time, consuming news online. The MEN’s Chartbeat software system gives the news team live information about the online traffic spikes when most readers are on the publication’s website and the journalists’ job is to feed this demand – a far cry from the days when the only real evidence anyone was reading a local newspaper was an angry phone call to the newsroom about a mis-spelled street name in a report.
According to Jupp the previous anxiety about online publishing denting sales of the print product appears to have evolved into a realisation that the web is an opportunity to create the publication’s the largest-ever audience: the MEN online receives one million page views per day from more than 200,000 visitors; its Facebook page has 50,000 likes and its Twitter feed 121,000 followers. What this amounts to, Jupp says, is a “shed load” of online traffic. Where the greatest accolade for a reporter used to be a front page story, it’s now the story getting the most web hits.
The MEN’s online presence has also allowed for a different type of journalism to emerge – perhaps more akin to the the world of the blog than the traditional “newspaper of record”. The idea of an online “story” featuring close-ups of different Stockport buildings going, literally, viral would no doubt perplex the journalists of yesteryear. But working online provides the ability to test what works and give the public what they want as opposed to what the newsroom thinks they want.
And then there’s yet another media contradiction – despite the “web first” approach cited by Jupp, the content for the MEN’s weekly, printed publication Greater Manchester Business Week is meant to be “print first” only, designed for business readers wanting to “take home a print quality business product”. Confused?
In the increasingly demanding world of media news desks, the experience of many PR people when calling journalists to “sell in” a client’s story is being told: “just email it…” before the phone goes dead. But, conversely, Jupp favours the more personal and collaborative approach between businesses with a story to tell and his business news team: Rather than press releases that have been painstakingly crafted into something that no longer resembles news, Jupp said: “I’d much rather have a conversation – a 30-second call – to talk about a story and have a personal relationship that breaks down barriers.”
And the criteria for what makes a good story? The MEN news desk has a highly memorable – though unprintable – shorthand phrase for what makes a winning story. But their phrase that probably sums it up best: “if it makes you drop your toast”, it’s a story!