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September 16, 2015

All four political parties in Welsh Assembly condemn individual audience targets for journalists

By David Knowles

All four political parties in the Welsh Assembly have condemned Trinity Mirror's plans to give journalists individual audience targets.

Trinity Mirror publishes a number of local and regional newspapers in Wales including the Western Mail and the South Wales Echo.

Last week it revealed plans to give journalist across the country individual audience growth targets and to also make further redundancies as part of the Connected Newsroom plan.

The plan is being opposed by the National Union of Journalists.

Martin Shipton, chair of the NUJ's Trinity Mirror group chapel, said: "We are grateful for the support offered to our campaign by all four parties represented in the National Assembly. It reflects the widespread concern that individual 'click' targets for journalists will lead to a race to the bottom in terms of quality.

"A sustainable future for media groups like Trinity Mirror will be determined by the level of their commitment to high quality journalism, not by a crude measure of website clicks from no matter where and no matter whom."

Ann Jones, Labour Party Welsh Assembly Member, said: "We are concerned that proposals to assess content and journalists based on the number of 'clicks,' will inevitably incentivise journalists to steer away from more complicated stories as well as changing the way they cover stories, potentially solely focusing on more 'sensational' elements.

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"We urge Trinity Mirror to reconsider and discuss these matters further with its employees in Wales."

Andrew Davies, a Conservative member, agreed: "Placing an emphasis on 'popularity' above public interest sets a precedent that will be difficult to reverse.

"I don’t doubt that a list of celebrity fashion faux-pas would attract more clicks than a thoughtful analysis of the Welsh government’s proposals for council reorganisation – but which is more important?’’

Plaid Cymru member Simon Thomas said:  "The diktat coming out of the Canary Wharf headquarters of Trinity Mirror is aimed at boosting the website clicks at Wales Online, yet it is once again cutting the workforce at Wales’s largest newspaper centre.’’

Peter Black, from the Liberal Democracts, said: "Making individual journalists’ targets based solely on the number of times their articles are viewed massively devalues true investigative journalism, and could spell an end for in-depth research to uncover wasteful spending, bad management or irresponsible actions in Cardiff Bay or County Halls.

In an interview with Press Gazette last Wednesday, Trinity Mirror editorial director of regionals Neil Benson responded to concerns raised about the new plan.

He said: "Actually, when we sat down with staff and explained how it will work, and that it’s not about clickbait – because clickbait wouldn’t get us anywhere in our aspirations to grow the local audience and to engage them – we’ve actually spent a lot of time walking the staff in the Midlands through that. And they now understand that and I think buy into it.

"So that’s part of what we will do – extend what we’ve done in the Midlands in terms of audience goals. We’ll be testing that over the rest of this year because we’ve not done it before so we’ve got to make sure we refine it and pitch the goals in the right way and then we can support staff in achieving them."

 "We won’t just be measuring page views and unique users – we’ll be looking at engagement as well.

"That’s equally important, building up an engaged local audience who come back and use us.

"Again, that’s the opposite of what you were doing if you were just aiming for clickbait. What we want is loyal local readers who come back to us all the time."

ABC figures for the first half of 2015 showed that Trinity Mirror is the biggest regional publisher online, attracting an average 2,069,527 unique users per day.

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