Community News

Gorkana meets...Mirror.co.uk

29 May 2015

Pete Picton, Mirror.co.uk editorial director, on increasing dwell time, advice on pitching and the most clicked on stories this year.

Mirror.co.uk has more than 65 million unique monthly browsers and features news, politics, showbiz, TV and sport channels. In March, the site won the British Press Awards’ digital award for best online news.

Pete was appointed editorial director of Mirror.co.uk last June and is responsible for output across all its editorial platforms.

He was brought in to grow the Mirror.co.uk site in terms of traffic and geography. The Mirror has opened two new offices in New York and Los Angeles. Pete’s view is that if you have “www” in your website address, you should have global ambitions. And Mirror readers are interested in stories from around the world.

Trinity Mirror

In January, Trinity Mirror’s combined readership passed the 100 million mark. As well as The Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, the portfolio of titles includes The Sunday People, the Irish Mirror and the Daily Record in Scotland.

There is also a strong network of regional titles including the Manchester Evening News, the Liverpool Echo, the Birmingham Mail and the Newcastle Chronicle. While Pete doesn’t have a reporting line across Trinity Mirror’s regional titles, he does work very closely with the various teams.

Trinity Mirror, under the leadership of chief executive Simon Fox, has undergone a considerable transformation in the last two to three years, with the company becoming more digitally focused. Many of the regional titles are now digital first outlets, and The Mirror itself is set to become the third biggest news site in the UK.

Day-to-day

The working day starts early for Mirror.co.uk, with a two-strong team in the US sending through content. In the UK, work kicks off between 5am and 6am, and there is an editorial conference for the online team at around 8:30am. Content is then produced throughout the day and there is another online conference at 5pm. Teams will then swap over in the evening.

The paper’s conference takes place at 11:30am, and this is attended by someone from the online team.

Pete has worked at The Sun, the Daily Mail and The Mirror, and he thinks The Mirror has the most integrated news room he has seen. There was no formal integration process, but the digital and print teams all sit together. There is a lot of cross-over between the teams, especially when it comes to exclusive content.

Readers

The average time spent on Mirror.co.uk is six to 12 minutes. This month, visitors spent an average of 10.37 minutes on the site.

The evening shift of the online team was traditionally seen as building content from the paper, but this is no longer the case as more and more content becomes digital first. This is a consequence of a change in audience behaviour, says Pete.

Evening traffic is growing significantly, and the site now tends to peak around 10pm. Video, which usually requires more time to view, is a lot more popular in the evening, as is social media content.

Days of the week are also changing in terms of popularity. Sunday, which was not seen as a big day for the site, is now becoming one of the biggest days of the week.

The team uses a system called Chart Beat, which is displayed in the office, to show what is being read at any particular moment. There is a trend line that shows how well content is doing against the week before, a list of the most popular stories at any one time, and where readers are coming from, be it mobile, desktop, SEO or referrals.

  • Mirror.co.uk reached more than half of 18 to 44-year-olds in April 2015.
  • 57% of 18 to 25-year-olds and 55% of 18 to 34-year-olds are going to Mirror.co.uk.
  • You are more likely to find a young adult on Mirror.co.uk than on the internet as a whole (as in Mirror.co.uk has a higher proportion then the internet average).
  • Mirror desktop users have a higher household income then the average internet user.
    Figures from ComScore.

Content

Around 500 new pieces of content are published on the site each day. The site’s key areas are news, showbiz, TV and sport, with news punching harder than anything else.

Content needs to be immediate, to address topics of most interest to the audience. “We don’t control the audience; the audience control what they want to do. So we have to go where and when they want it.”

Like any media outlet, The Mirror loves to have exclusive content, but it is not essential. It often depends on what it is – especially if it’s a longer term project.

Human interest stories are always very popular on the site and they always work well on social too. The story about the fire at the Manchester Dog’s Home, in September, was huge and the team set up a Just Giving page, which raised more than £1 million.

The team has also launched new sections including money and tech, which is headed up by tech editor Olivia Solon. Fashion is also starting to grow.

Football is the key sport readers are interested in, but there has been an increase in boxing content.

The young mothers section is also very popular, and is heavily driven by reader responses. Trinity Mirror’s regional titles have also done a lot of work around user generated content (UGC).

Columnists tend to be a struggle for the site. This could be because content needs to be of the moment. The window of interest comes during a TV show or a political debate, not afterwards. It’s something Pete is keen to work on.

One of the areas that worked very well for the site was the recent General Election. There has always been a view that young people aren’t engaged with politics, and an assumption that elections won’t do well online.

But the site’s election content went down a storm, says Pete. The team live blogged the leaders' debates, which led to high levels of engagement. On the morning of the election result, when the political landscape was changing dramatically, it was Pete’s job to deliver content there and then. “There’s no time to stand back and wait. You’ve just got to get on and do it.”

Traditionally online sites have not had a political team, with the lead on politics coming from the paper, but The Mirror has a strong political team. During the election, the paper’s political team was heavily involved in online content and were writing through the night.

What the online team did differently with this election was to take a strong view on the outcome on the Sunday after the election. They ran stories such as 'the seven policies of the new government you should be worried about'.

Pete believes there is a big opportunity for online and political coverage. Readers all have alliances, but they want an honest opinion – if the team is critical of one party, readers will expect them to do the same of the opposition when it gets something wrong.

Working with PRs

Pete always needs good content, and the team works with several entertainment and sport PRs.That said, Pete admits it’s hard to define what a great story is. “If we knew that, we could retire tomorrow.” He says the best stories often come from left field.

His best piece of advice is 'put yourself in the shoes of the person you're pitching to'. Digital moves so quickly and often someone on the team may only have 10 minutes to work on a story.

Always put the main point of the story in the subject line. Most of the team will just read the subject line – they often don’t have time to read the email, so the subject line needs to engage them. If they do open an email, their attention needs to be grabbed within the first three sentences.

If a PR wants to send in video content, remember that it needs to show the story. Pete is happy to keep the branding in, but is not interested in someone just talking about a story. If there are good examples of the actual story, it can work.

Mirror readers are obsessed with food, especially anything around brands changing their chocolate bars size or shape.

Earlier this week, the team helped launch the inaugural Facebook Football Awards. Because The Mirror does so well in social, Facebook was keen to work with them, with BT as the TV partner. The idea was use social media to let fans vote on their favourite teams, players and supporters. It provided great branding for The Mirror and offered a host of opportunities for PRs.

Mobile

Mirror.co.uk has now has more mobile readers then desktop readers. A new app launched last week, and there is also an e-edition. Pete says the percentage of traffic is higher from mobile then other sites. This makes the team more focused on mobile than tablets, because it’s where Pete believes the market is going. At the moment the team can preview content as it would look on mobile. The next stage will be to create a dedicated mobile team.

Bank Holidays were always seen as a quiet day for the site, but the most recent one (25 May) proved otherwise, with Pete noting that double the traffic was coming from mobile vs desktop, showing that people were still accessing Mirror.co.uk while out and about.

Based on this, Pete needs to consider how the site can purpose its content for mobile. What do mobile audiences like? Are they different from the desktop audience? Are they different from those who consume via social? But he says content is the key - as long as the site is producing good content, it will work; getting good content is the hardest challenge.

Video

When he took on the role, Pete knew that video was going to be very important and hired Melanie Edgar, who had worked with him at the Daily Mail, as head of video. Since then video traffic has gone from around three million views per month to 15 million views per month (as of January – which is traditionally the biggest month for Mirror.co.uk). He predicts video traffic will sit at around 12 to 13 million in May.

The video strategy is fairly straight forward, says Pete. “The video has to be the story. We don’t do video for the sake of it.” Content is a mixture of videos they source and licence and in-house filmed content.

The newspaper is very good at using video to film exclusives. One of the main reasons the site won the digital award for best online news at the British Press Awards was because it worked closely with the paper on exclusive content.

Pete says PRs considering submitting video content need to ensure all rights are cleared. He was once sent a video by a drinks company that had some great footage, but it turned out it couldn’t be used for rights reasons.

The team has always worked on short-form videos (max 2 minutes), but they did feature a full length documentary (about 45 minutes) on Jill Dando because the content was interesting enough for readers to spend that time watching it.

When it comes to entertainment, film trailers always work well online. Pete likes to get these first as it’s a huge drive for traffic.

While the team has embedded videos, the majority of video content is put through The Mirror’s own player, Brightcove, so that ads can be included.

Social

Social is growing rapidly for Mirror.co.uk. Pete saw a recent stat that said of the 10 most shared news sites in the world, Mirror.co.uk was ranked at seven - the highest spot for a UK title.

There is currently a five-strong team looking after social media. It’s a market that is dramatically changing, with more and more social media platforms wanting to work closely with publishers, which is causing debate in the industry about how this can work. Putting content directly onto social platforms will create a very different commercial relationship for both journalists and PRs, says Pete.

One of the challenges of social media and online searches is that readers tend to only come to the site for one story. Gaining brand loyalty and dwell time is always a challenge. Part of Pete’s remit is to make sure that when these readers come in for that story, they stay for at least a few more. This is where engaging content becomes key. Pete wants to get people reading stories they wouldn’t necessarily think they’d want to read.

Pete is always looking for content that is going to surprise. He said it harks back to his newspaper days when they were always looking for 'Hey Doris' stories which would make readers stop and call out 'hey have you seen this Doris'. Pete wants to replicate this for online.

A lot of what the team creates now gains traction via social media. Social media is all about sharing something because of what it says about you, but if you feel there is an overt push by a brand, you won’t share.

Twitter has worked with the online team at Mirror.co.uk to show how they can find news quickly when monitoring for news stories. If something really big has happened, one of the best searches you can do on Twitter is “what the f***” because that’s what people tend to tweet.

Key dates for 2015

The team tries to plan as best it can, even though this is a challenge in the digital space. Key upcoming events include The Rugby World Cup, Glastonbury, and when the Queen becomes the longest serving monarch in September.

There will also be the first Conservative Budget in July and the Labour leadership election results in September. Alongside this are the usual annual events, like the football transfer window, which is massive for The Mirror. Big TV events will always be covered.

Most clicked on stories this year:

  • Charlie Hebdo.
  • The royal baby.
  • The General Election.
  • Top Gear.
  • Anything on soaps (especially Eastenders).
  • The weather – readers are obsessed.
  • Celebrity Big Brother.
  • The Solar Eclipse.
  • Britain Sizzles (Biggest global story).
  • The death of Anne Kirkbride (second biggest global story).