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January 4, 2016

Trinity Mirror shelves plan to give journalists individual online traffic growth targets

By Dominic Ponsford

Trinity Mirror has shelved plans to give reporters individual online audience growth targets in the face of possible industrial action.

Team targets will continue to be set. And journalists will have one-on-one monthly meetings to review their performance and discuss ways to build their web traffic.

Journalists will also be able to opt in to personal audience targets on a voluntary basis.

The company faced a backlash against the plan from journalists who feared it would encourage crass ‘clickbait’ style content. Last month journalists on titles including the Daily Post in Wales, the Liverpool Echo, Birmingham Post, Newcastle Chronicle and Manchester Evening News all held strike ballots to protest at the proposed targets.

Now Trinity Mirror regionals editorial director Neil Benson has announced that compulsory individual audience targets will not go ahead.

In an email to staff he said: “I am pleased to say that after constructive discussions with the NUJ, we have agreed what we believe to be a mutually acceptable way forward on audience goals.

“We have agreed that individual audience goals will not be set at this stage. We will be going ahead with monthly one-to-one meetings between writers and managers, to review performance over the previous month and to discuss how personal audiences can be built, using proven best practice and, where appropriate, supported by training.

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“We aim to begin one-to-ones from the week commencing January 25. In addition, any members of staff who would like to opt in to individual audience goals, on a trial basis, will be welcome to do so.”

The personal online audience growth targets were revealed by Press Gazette in June as part of a series of changes following a shake-up at Trinity Mirror’s Birmingham and Coventry titles which saw 25 journalism jobs cut.

A note to journaists said “The days are long gone when we could afford to be a paper of record and dutifully report everything that happened on our patch.”

It said that journalists would be given targets aimed at growing their personal online audience.

Those who failed to achieve the required level of growth could be put in a “performance improvement plan” and, “in very exceptional circumstances”, would face disciplinary action.

The document said: "Of course some roles by their nature and the content they cover will drive different levels of online traffic and the levels we expect to see will reflect that. But everyone will be expected – and helped – to grow their audiences, albeit from different starting points."

The note said the performance of journalists would “be assessed regularly, taking into account audience traffic to your content and therefore encompassing page views, unique users, local audience and other metrics”.

New job descriptions for journalists in the Midlands state: “You will be expected to grow your page views and uniques in line with the growth we require as a business.”

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: "Our members could not make their concern and fears about the individual digital targets more clear.

"They understand the need to measure the digital output and the need to increase the digital audience, but the solution is to encourage well-resourced and well-managed newsrooms where everyone can play their part, not put the staff under the pressure of having to hit individual targets."

Trinity Mirror regional editorial director Neil Benson has previously defended the online audience targets and said they are not about promoting 'clickbait' style journalism.

He said: "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.

"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."

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