Expanded interview with Andy Phelan
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In the past several years, Herald Express, a daily newspaper based in Torquay, South Devon, U.K. has run a number of major projects that combine editorial texts with advertising opportunities. In 2009, the Herald Express was among the winners of the XMA Cross Media Awards for the paper’s “Rock Stars” project in which a rock band of local musicians was brought together by readers and web users.
A joint print and web campaign helped select band members one by one, and then a poll was launched to choose a name for the band: Space Beacon Earth. The band performed its first live public concert in June 2009. More information about the project can be found on page 7 of the XMA Cross Media Award Winners book, which is available free online at www.ifra.com/xma
In this interview, Herald Express Editor Andy Phelan discusses these projects.
WAN-IFRA: How does co-ordinating the editorial and advertising teams work?
Andy Phelan: I took over as editor here at Torquay about three years ago. It was something that I felt needed to be addressed really, this separation between editorial and advertising. It's something that I think has been massively overstated. I think that what we have managed to prove through these kinds of projects is that setting up and running what are on the face of it commercial projects with advertising and involvement from editorial does not damage the editorial integrity of the title.
WAN-IFRA: I saw a presentation that you did where you noted that one of the sponsors of an early campaign was later on investigated by police, and you covered that on the front page as well.
Phelan: Exactly. That's the piece of evidence that I use over everything else. Because the relationship that we have with the people who do sponsor and back these projects, is exactly the same relationship we have with all advertisers. The problem does not come from running these kinds of projects. The problem only arises if you do get into a situation where there is a genuine, valid news story that is not in the best interest of the advertiser, but is clearly a news story then you still have to make the appropriate decision, and that's the same response internally to the news team.
People also ask me “How does the news team feel about having to do these kinds of things?” (It’s) not a problem because they understand that we do them because they are of interest to the readers. We're trying to reach young people, this is the kind of story they are going to respond to, but they would have a problem straightaway if when in that incident with the advertiser if I had said “Oh, no, we can’t do the story – his business has gone under, and the police are investigating – we can’t do the story because he backed it.” That’s when your credibility goes – not by doing the project in the first place. It’s about whether you’ve got enough guts to say to a big advertiser this is a story and I'm running it regardless, and that’s what we do, that’s what we have done and nobody’s has any doubt about where those lines are. That’s an editorial judgement that we make on a regular basis.
In terms of the relationship between editorial and advertising, and I’ve talked about this before, I believe firmly that they will come together, and they have to come together.
Any journalist who doesn’t accept that, I think, is actually accelerating the decline of their own newspaper because the whole attitude in the past of editors who say “I’m here and it’s pure journalism. I’m only here to make decisions and deal with the stories and the journalism whether this operation is commercially successful or not is not my problem, that's down to the commercial guys.” That’s such a foolhardy, short-sighted approach. If you’re not aware of the financial realities, if you’re not working to actually help achieve those goals because if you're not making a profit, then the shareholders are going to close you down.
It’s a pretty straight-forward deal. So if you can put some of the effort of the newsroom into projects that are going to be commercially attractive to readers, to advertisers you're going to keep the money coming in that will fund the real hard-nosed journalism that will still do at the front of the paper anyway. Then you have a much greater shelf-life as a viable newspaper.
If you’re sitting there just splurging money all over the place because it’s absolutely essential for your news coverage and you're incurring bigger and bigger losses, then those titles will survive a shorter period of time than titles like this where we do pay attention to the commercial realities and try to support the aims of the business.
WAN-IFRA: Since you’ve started running these campaigns, what kind of effect has that had on things like circulation?
Phelan: A lot of things go into circulation, but the Herald Express is the best performing title in terms of circulation (approximately 23,000 copies daily) within our group, which is across the U.K. We have 17 daily titles across the U.K. We finished the last ABC auditing period as the seventh best performing title in the country.
This interview was conducted by Brian Veseling, WAN-IFRA's senior editor for Publishing, Editorial and General Management.