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Rewarding page views and the threat to PR: The implications Reach's move to reward its journalists for page views

The news that the digital titles of Reach are launching a pilot scheme to measure their journalists on the number page views that achieve each month, was criticised by some rival publishers but it as has rightly set off alarm bells across the PR industry.

In truth, things have been heading in this direction for some time now. The days of simply applying instinctive news judgement when choosing which stories to write or publish in digital are over.

During my career as a news editor, online publishing was still in its infancy. The mantra back then, a distant seven years ago, was to publish everything online.

Print came first, all the time. Almost every exclusive was published in the paper first and then translated onto digital as soon as it hit newsstands.

Our measure of success was circulation and over time the knowledge of what front page stories actually sold copies helped hone our news judgement on what worked for Sun readers.

We were dimly aware of stories that performed online but chose to judge the efficacy of our work largely on how many papers it sold, as well as the reaction of our peers on other papers and the broadcast media.

If everyone was talking about a splash in The Sun, you knew you had got the alchemy right on any given day.

Of course, this process, with the paper selling largely based on what was on the front page, paid little regard to the content on other pages.

All that has now changed. On most national papers, there is a new dynamic.

News editors no longer work purely on instinct, trusting their judgement to get them through.

Alongside them now are audience experts, with access to the back end of every digital site, measuring the impact of every word, picture and video.

Page views, engagement and dwell time are the new metrics on which content is judged.

Note, I do not use the word stories here, choosing instead content.

Digital assets, video and picture galleries are ever more important, some of which fall outside of the traditional definition of news.

Tailoring our news feed to digital and print is key to our future. And it should be to all PR agencies.

It should be said that not all digital publishers are embracing this route forward. Some are doubling down on the principle that stories, and great journalism, come first.

Nonetheless, when audience is key to unlocking advertising dollar, it is certain that improving digital performance is top of the agenda at every online publisher.

What should PR do? It must adapt.

It is exceptionally rare for a story to appear online without digital assets such as pictures, video or interactive design work.

Sending a press release without these and hoping to get it published digitally is hopeful in the extreme.

Time is a huge factor here. Journalists tasked with landing page views will choose a formula that works and try to work at speed to achieve volume.

Forcing them to do the heavy lifting by sourcing pictures and video is a mistake, as they will always take the option that is quickest and best in the digital space.

Tailoring our work so its fits for both print and digital is, of course, a huge challenge.

Our advice to clients is simple. Think visually.

An interesting, and key, process is to ensure teams consume digital news. A cursory glance at the online editions of The Mail, Sun, Mirror or Star, will show that almost every single story is accompanied by assets.

It also shows the kind of content that is being used. Believe me, it's there because it's driving audience - every single time.

It is also worth noting that online journalists have already learned much about what works in a digital environment. If they are be measured on page views going forward they'll know what performs.

The danger for PR is they'll also know what doesn't.

Article written by Chris Pharo, managing director at 72Point.

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