Can dropping the paywall and upping the story count boost Sun’s website?
Editor Tony Gallagher and internet convert Rebekah Brooks lead push to revitalise tabloid’s online presenceNow what about the Times, Ms. Brooks?
Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul previously known for his refusal to give editorial content away free, has bowed to the inevitable by dismantling the Sun’s paywall. It was a flawed decision at its inception in 2013 and has proved to be disastrous ever since. Even a partial lifting of the wall in July made little difference. Indeed, it tended to frustrate non-paying visitors to the website who were uncertain what was, and was not, freely available.
It was significant the Sun’s digital audience slipped backwards in September compared to August, suggesting opening the odd door in the wall had failed to keep stimulating interest. Meanwhile, the paper’s rivals have continued to prosper. Mail Online kept growing apace and the Daily Mirror, despite a somewhat clunky site, began to attract an impressively increasing audience. Although the revenue garnered from the Sun’s £7.99 monthly subscription for website access proved lucrative, it had the effect of locking the paper out from the online national conversation. That was unacceptable for a mass market newspaper that has always relied on the volume of its readership to provide it with political and social clout.
Three of the key Murdoch lieutenants who grasped that reality were the returning News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks, the chief operating officer David Dinsmore, and the man who replaced him as Sun editor, Tony Gallagher. It was something of a U-turn for Brooks, who had previously been enthusiastic about the paywall strategy, but her message to staff last week suggested she has become an internet convert.
Gallagher needed no such conversion. As a former Mail Online executive who had witnessed the beginnings of that platform’s successful rise to become the world’s leading newspaper website, he arrived at the Sun in September with his mind made up: the paywall had to go and the website had to be totally redesigned.
To that end, it was he who was responsible for the recruiting of a former colleague, Keith Poole, the managing editor of Mail Online’s New York operation, as the Sun’s digital editor. He will join after three months of “gardening leave” and it is stressed that, like Gallagher, he is imbued with print sensitivities. This indicates that a similar ethos at the Sun will inform print and online content, unlike the Mail where the website has developed its own approach and agenda. Gallagher has been intimately involved with the Sun’s change of digital direction, which will include a restructure of its website. It is likely to be unveiled in February and will favour the paper’s coverage of news, celebrity and sport, in contrast to its current propensity for highlighting wacky human interest stories. One inside source says: “Don’t expect anything too radical. We’re giving up the jumble sale approach and introducing a straightforward, easy-to-access shop front.”
More journalists are expected to be hired to join the Sun’s digital team and to help boost the quantity of its content. Story count is something of a Gallagher obsession. In a message to staff he wrote: “We have a chance to make our outstanding journalism go further and reach more people than ever before.” News aside, it is known that he believed the Sun’s recent campaign against cuts to tax credits would have been greatly enhanced had there not been a paywall in place. It is obvious that a paper trying to put a government under pressure can benefit from maximising its reach....MORE