Ladbible Group's head of content on site's role during Covid-19 crisis: 'We don't want to just add to the noise'

Online news publisher Ladbible views its role during the coronavirus crisis as using its huge reach among young people “responsibly” to make the most important updates more accessible, the group’s head of content has said.

Ladbible editor Simon Binns surprised many viewers when he was called upon by Home Secretary Priti Patel during Saturday’s daily press briefing, alongside journalists from the BBC, Channel 4 News, Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Mirror.

The site is mainly known for light-hearted shareable content, whereas the daily coronavirus press briefings have been dominated by established mainstream news brands.

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Head of content Sam Oakley told Press Gazette that logging onto social media afterwards it was “great to see the audience recognise the scale of our reach and the part we have to play in UK society at the moment and the responsibility we have. It was a really nice moment”.

Ladbible Group’s eight brands – including Sportbible and the female-focused Tyla – collectively claim to reach two-thirds of the UK’s 18 to 34 year olds and 82 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds, a scale which Oakley said has given it “quite an important role now in media culture”.

Binns asked Patel about how police are enforcing social distancing and lockdown measures.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council revealed today that 3,203 people were been fined for breaking lockdown rules between 27 March and 13 April, 80 per cent of whom were men and two-thirds of whom were aged 18 to 34.

“We were there to ask a question that we felt needed to be asked for our users and for our audience,” Oakley said.

“And I think as this goes on, we don’t want to just kind of add to the noise, we want to be able to kind of distil  important messaging.”

Ex-Ladbible and Buzzfeed head of communications Peter Heneghan joined Downing Street as deputy director of digital communications last summer, and Oakley said it was likely his former colleague had helped the Government “understand the landscape of digital publishers and what they bring to the table”.

“They can have a responsible role in society to help broadcast information.”

Elaborating on Ladbible’s own role, Oakley said it wanted to simplify information for its audience “in a way that’s not patronising”.

“There’s some fantastic other outlets out there that do real long form investigative pieces, but our audience tell us what they want and we have learned over the years that they want the information that’s important to them quickly and almost in a very conversational tone so they understand it.

“I think bringing that idea of making some of the news accessible, some of the opinions and commentary from the experts accessible to the broader public, is a really important role that we serve.”

Ladbible ran a short campaign, Cutting Through, at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak to “amplify” accurate messages and help avoid misinformation spreading among its audience, some of whom were scared and some of whom believed it was “just a cold”, Oakley said.

“We used that in a short burst to make sure it amplified the message that needed to be, then stopped adding to the noise… once it served a purpose.

“People have accepted our state at the moment, they’ve accepted that we are in lockdown. It doesn’t mean it’s easy. So treating coronavirus like a breaking news story and doing 100 stories on it a day isn’t what people want. They want the important information when it surfaces.”

He added that Ladbible was mixing this type of information – which has included livestreams of the daily Government press briefing on the Ladbible and Tyla Facebook pages – with “levity and escapism from the current situation”.

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