Nine Reach regional brands have adopted a “newsletter-led approach” meaning the websites are no longer their “flagship” means of content delivery.
The publisher initially trialled this “engagement-first model” with five of its “Live” brands – in Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire – beginning in November.
It is now following suit in Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Sussex and Hampshire at the same time as making 200 redundancies across the business, as announced on Wednesday.
There will be no job losses on the four sites changing to the newsletter model, Press Gazette understands.
The new approach means that although these brands still have their own websites, the sites support the newsletters rather than the other way around. This strategy can be particularly successful with hyperlocal stories and means journalists can focus more on stories that are most relevant to a community, Reach said.
The first five sites to pilot the new model met their newsletter page view targets and, in December, grew loyal page views which Reach said it considers an increasingly important metric. For this reason newsletters have been seen as an important pillar of Reach’s customer value strategy seeking to use data to learn more about its audiences.
The newsletters on offer at each site include a mixture of local bulletins and others shared across Reach’s network – for example, in Norfolk, a daily news update will be promoted as well as a South East business newsletter and others for England football, NFL, Bake Off, LGBTQ+ stories and TV and film.
Paul Rowland, editorial director of Reach’s Live Network, said: “We are not in the website business, we’re in the business of reaching and engaging people.
“We know that newsletters are a brilliant tool for developing rich relationships with our most loyal readers – especially at hyperlocal level – so we’ll be asking a selection of our newsbrands to focus on a smaller total of more engaging stories, with a website supporting the newsletter rather than vice versa.
“We know we can make these newsletters the absolute must-read, must-share local news source in our communities.
“With that spirit in mind though, we won’t be wedded to newsletters forever, if we find that there’s another medium for building a strong relationship with our audience. This is an exciting step in ensuring that we continue to keep our local audiences well-served with news tailored to them.”
Although some of Reach’s biggest regional brands such as the Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo have not taken the same approach, the idea is that they can learn from the newsletter-led sites to inform their own offerings.
Newsletters have long been part of Reach’s offering but, audience transformation director Martin Little has previously told Press Gazette, 2021 was the year they “really turned our focus to newsletters in a way that we hadn’t before. This year is about the relationship we’ve got with our audience and we need to use that better”.
Substack-based newsletter Manchester Mill reached profitability just ahead of its second birthday in November with 1,600 paying subscribers. Sister newsletters the Liverpool Post and Sheffield Tribune also continue to grow.
The changes come as Reach revealed plans to make 200 staff redundant. The National Union of Journalists revealed the proposal includes cutting 102 editorial roles, meaning 253 journalists have been put at risk in total as the consultation period begins.
The NUJ also said 100 vacancies have been withdrawn, although about 180 remain open and Reach said a recruitment freeze was not in place.
Reach said the cuts and changes were necessary due to a challenging economic environment that includes rising costs and reduced consumer spend. It is instead pursuing a strategy it said will ensure a “more sustainable and digitally-led future”.
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