Caledonian Mercury – How Social Media Might Just Help Pay For Journalism

THE award winning publisher of the Caledonian Mercury ‘newspaper’
site says he is confident they are closer to their goal than ever of securing backing
for the project.  

Stewart Kirkpatrick, formerly editor of scotsman.com,
launched the site at the beginning of the year backed by a team of heavyweight
writers working to an eat what you kill deal in terms of payments for work.

Now – after securing the coveted online publisher of the
year award at the Regional Press Awards for the innovative project – Kirkpatrick
said he hopes potential backers will now be convinced that the Cal Merc is no
flash in the pan.

Speaking on media and public relations podcast Quiet News Day, he said: “It is a big
award, it’s a big deal. When I was at scotsman.com we only managed to get
shortlisted once, so it’s fantastic to have won it on the back of the Caley
Merc.

“We’ve been going since the end of January, it feels like a
helluva long time, so it’s a big pat on the back for the team and hard work all
the writer’s have put in.

“The quality of the writing is very high, we still have a
lot of goodwill for the vision of what we are trying to do, revitalise
journalism and find a way for journalists to make a buck online. That maybe
played in our favour as well.”

The site was highly commended in the Newspaper Awards where
it tied second with The Guardian earlier in the year, and the new accolade
gives those behind the project added weight to their bid for major backing in
presentations.

And he says it will be social media – not rankings – that will
help their cause.

Kirkpatrick said: “We’ve gone from being a good idea which
didn’t have an audience to a site that now has an audience and has traction
within the industry.

“It’s a much, much easier sell to advertisers rather than hey,
look at us, isn’t it a good idea please give us some money.”

“We have realised that in the good old days of online
journalism – isn’t it weird to talk about the good old days of online
journalism – the way to do it was to gain Google news and to get your site
targeted by Google News and get as much traffic from that as possible.

“That trick has been played and there is SEO companies who
will do that for you and charge a very high price to do that for you.

“So we realised we had to look in other directions.

“Sure we are on Google News, absolutely, but it’s
essentially a numbers game. The more stories you have, the more traffic you’ll
get from Google News. 

"What we’re trying to do is use social media to find those
audiences.

“That’s what’s a bit different about our approach which is a
bit more imaginative than hey we’ve got a Facebook page.

“We just got into a partnership with the largest Scottish
group [Scotland] on Facebook who have 94,000 fans and now we’re able to put
selected stories in front of them and we’re already seeing an impact on the
traffic.

“There are other groups as well, there are Gaelic groups and
we have Gaelic content, and just really reaching out to groups of people who
have congregated around interests on social networking sites. That’s our
approach to new audiences.”

“We’re not saddled down any baggage or preconceptions about
who we are, what we’re about, or our particular viewpoint on this, that or the
other. We set our stall out to be decided neutral, although obviously our
journalists have their own opinions.”

“That means it’s a lot easier for us to go and talk to
people because they know we’re not pushing any kind of agenda, we ‘re just want
to share interesting stories with their members.”

But he knows there is plenty of work to do yet, and says the
next six months will be spent convincing people that this is an exciting
business to be a part of.

He said: “We’re not out the woods yet. We’re turning from
being a great idea into a solid business, but we need more advertising revenue
and we need to grow more sections and more writers, and I want to be able to
pay my writers more.

“The next six months will be a period of ramping up our
commercial activity because as we’ve discussed, we’ve now got a really strong
story to sell to advertisers, that’s the number one priority, and to increase
the number of stories you see on the site.”

“We already carry a bit of video, we’d like to expand that,
but our main priorities are more revenue and more writers.”

You can hear Stewart Kirkpatrick in conversation on Quiet News Day Episode 36, starting around the 41-minute mark: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/quiet-news-day/id361202078



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