Reach has claimed its regional news titles in print and digital will cover the entirety of England and Wales for the first time by the end of 2021.
The publisher will this year launch online Live newsbrands in seven areas where it does not currently have a presence – Norfolk, Suffolk, Dorset, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire – joining 19 new sites that went live in 2020.
Darlington, North Devon, Weston-super-Mare and Rutland will also get new dedicated newsbrands. Some of these will be standalone websites and others will sit as new channels within existing sites.
The plans will involve a recruitment drive creating more than 50 journalism jobs, also boosting its existing city newsrooms including five new roles at My London further to 25 added in December.
In total this will take the number of jobs created for the Live regional news network since the start of 2020 to 170 – although 550 jobs were lost across Reach in a restructure last summer.
Reach said the plans for coverage of every county in England and Wales were “key” for its customer value strategy, launched just over a year ago with more than 6m registered customers already signed up since.
Reach editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley said: “Over the past 18 months, we’ve significantly ramped up the number of new sites we’ve launched as part of our Live network, many in areas where we don’t have established print titles.
“Thanks to our transformation of editorial operations last year and underpinned by our customer value strategy which ensures we build deeper relationships with our readers, we have created a sustainable model for digital-only local journalism.
“The reaction to 2020’s launches from new readers has been overwhelmingly positive, giving us the confidence to complete the whole map of England and Wales by the end of this year.
“This is incredibly exciting and further strengthens our position as the leading news publisher in the UK with an unparalleled ability to engage audiences through both our national and regional journalism.”
Reach cited Comscore data showing 72% of UK adults get local news from its brands, up from 67% last year.
It said 88% of adults who read local news spend time on its Live sites.
Reach launched 19 Live news websites in 2020, including Yorkshire Live whose initial team of 12 grew its audience to be above rivals at JPI Media Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post within six months (according to Reach’s own figures).
Reach ‘Live’ network expansion – timeline
In a precursor to the “Live” era, Reach (then Trinity Mirror) launched the Get Reading website following the closure of three of its print publications in the Reading area with the loss of 17 editorial roles.
Get Reading was heralded as potentially creating “a new and different future for regional publishing”.
Many of the publisher’s other regional websites were given the “Get” branding before “Live” became the chosen moniker.
Get Reading was in January 2018 absorbed into the hyperlocal news aggregator In Your Area. Reach then launched Berkshire Live, which covers Reading, just over a year later.
Belfast Live, the first of the standalone Live city websites, launched and gained an audience of more than 1m unique users within five months.
The publisher announced it would separate the print and digital teams at the Birmingham Mail and create the Birmingham Live website.
This was the pilot for the new publishing model later implemented across the publisher’s newsrooms.
The first of the rest of the newsroom restructures were announced, in locations such as Bath and Derbyshire, with the Live brand expand to create more online titles.
Around 50 mostly print-related jobs were lost and Burton Mail journalists urged the publisher to think again about the rebrand that would see parts of its patch from outside Derbyshire come under the county’s Live website, fearing this could alienate readers.
One month later a further 49 roles were put at risk as newsrooms in the north east, Humber, south east and Devon and Cornwall regions were restructured to create separate print and online teams.
Manchester Evening News and Huddersfield Daily Examiner became the latest to move to the “Live” model – although the MEN was not given the same rebrand. The Liverpool Echo is one of the only other titles to retain its historical name online due to the attached prestige.
Reach launched the capital-wide My London website in the same model as the Live brands, merging the online presence of the Croydon Advertiser with Get West London in the process.
The Birmingham Post website closed and was replaced by a standalone business news title, Business Live.
Reach experimented with its first online micro-paywall on Examiner Live, the website of the Huddersfield Daily Examiner.
The trial lasted five months and reportedly proved a “large number” of readers are happy to pay for certain content (breaking news, traffic and travel and some crime stories remained free). Reach said it planned to try the model on more of its websites but has not yet done so.
Reach launched 19 new Live websites in 2020 including in Yorkshire.
Loyal users who visited sites across the Live network every other day were up by more than 40% compared to 2019.
Reach cut 550 jobs across its national and regional titles as part of a plan for deduplication and the creation of one editorial team and an internal news wire across the UK and Ireland.
A series of audience and content directors were appointed across different regions to run local newsrooms and work as part of the digital editorial leadership team, with local editors reporting to them.