At an exclusive Gorkana, Cision and PR Newswire media briefing, i editor Oliver Duff, alongside digital editor Felicity Morse, revealed to a packed-out audience of PR and comms professionals why the national newspaper is a “print success story”, what content works best for its readers and the key things PRs need to remember when pitching-in ideas.
It was a brave move to launch a print title in 2010, says Duff. Six years later, he can only describe i as a “print success story”. And with an extra 30,000 in print sales and a new Northern Ireland edition since it was bought by Johnston Press earlier this year, the title certainly has more than one story to tell.
Launched in 2010, i is a national newspaper that, until its sale by ESI Media to Johnston Press for a reported £24 million in April, was made up almost exclusively of content from its then sister title, The Independent.
Catering to an “intelligent, cultured and discerning” audience, 85% of which are outside London, i provides the latest, news stories, daily briefings, opinion and insight, as well as travel and culture content.
— Macmillan Press (@macmillanpress) September 20, 2016
i still has a relationship with The Independent, with a three-year deal in place for the newspaper to use its content, including travel editor Simon Calder and Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn. It also has a content partnership with The Washington Post.
That said, original content is fast becoming a dominant presence for i. The majority of stories featured in the print title are now created by its growing editorial team (which has risen from 15 to 50 since i was bought by Johnston Press). All content featured on iNews.co.uk, which launched in April, is original content.
“Our readers demand expert insight into news”, says Duff. “They don’t just want the top line – they want to dig deep beneath a good story.”
In June, daily sales peaked at 319,000 copies (29 June) – less than a week after the EU Referendum. That same week, iNews.co.uk recorded its highest weekly page views, reporting 1.65 million.
Asked about the reasons for its success, Duff cites the paper’s fairness when it comes to covering stories (“We’ll never say ‘it was the i ‘wot won it’”, says Duff) and his work to “de-silo” i’s print and digital teams. “We’re building a brand for 2020”, he says.
There is a joint newsdesk and editors are banned from simply reading out their story lists in editorial conferences. According to Duff, it’s led to better conversations where, more often than not, an idea for digital has been expanded upon and led to a story in the print title (and vice versa).
Here are a just a few key top tips that both Duff and Morse revealed at the i media briefing:
The team doesn’t talk stats, it talks readers
It’s an old fashioned idea to tell your readers how to think, explains Duff. “We’re interested in content that can really value the lives of our readership.” It’s USP is fairness. There’s no axe to grind – it’s about providing expert insight on the news. i was one of the only national newspapers not to declare either way for Brexit earlier this year – a reflection, Duff adds, of how the team wants to treat its readers.
— Adam (@justadamtalk) September 20, 2016
Readers ‘complain’ if i adds more pages
There are five key values that influence the paper’s content strategy. Brevity, quality, value, fairness and dialogue. The demand for editing and curation has never been higher, says Duff. Readers want i to cut through the noise. There’s a massive value placed on their time, which means both print and online need to provide a no nonsense attitude to what it provides, whether it be news, travel, cultural or political content (oh, and never interfere with the puzzles).
— Ashton Bainbridge (@ashtonfaye1) September 20, 2016
Personal stories do best
Content about people, especially online, will always prove popular with readers, said Morse. “People want to know about people – it’s a really human thing.” And it’s not about celebrities – readers have a low tolerance for the stars, Duff believes. A story published last week entitled ‘How to spot you’re an alcoholic’ gained a mass of interest because it told a story about someone’s journey through a traumatic time in their life. A story like this “finds the audience that it deserves”, observes Morse.
— Zoe Madeleine Taylor (@ZoeTinkerTaylor) September 20, 2016
If you have to ring to explain the hook, then there probably isn’t one
If a PR’s pitch via email doesn’t work, it’s really unlikely to work by phone, advises Morse. PRs should also think about timing when they want to pitch-in an idea. News ideas should come in a day in advance (if possible), feature ideas should be roughly a week ahead and content suggestions for iWeekend should come in the Monday/Tuesday beforehand. The team will never work six months in advance, so those releases being sent over about Valentine’s Day will likely go in the bin.
— Madeleine Little (@madeleinelittle) September 20, 2016
Kieran Lowe, senior press officer at Citizens Advice, was one of the 250-strong audience at the media briefing. He says: “I appreciated that Oliver and Felicity were frank about specifics, from the nature of i’s content sharing with The Independent and other papers, to the different print and digital deadlines they work to, and the kind of surveys they are interested in.
“It’s always helpful to learn more about who a newspaper’s readers are, and the kind of content and stories they like and dislike.”
Rosie Baines, media assistant at the New Economy Organisers Network, was also at the event. She says: “I really enjoyed the i media briefing with Oliver Duff and Felicity Morse. They spoke with candour and humour about what it is that makes i such a great paper, including the focus on thought-provoking, engaging pieces with a human rather than celebrity interest, which was refreshing to hear.”