Community News

Gorkana meets...The Argus

18 June 2015

Mike Gilson, editor of The Argus, on revamping the paper, holding back the occasional exclusive and why great pictures are the way to his heart.

Gorkana meets...The Argus

Firstly, tell us a little about the news team at The Argus and your role.

We’ve a small young team here at Brighton but have some fantastic talents who are going to make big names for themselves. We have the last two Regional Press Awards young journalist of the year winners (Gareth Davies, Ben Leo) which is testament to letting youth have its head! My job is to guide and encourage.

After joining in February you oversaw a revamp of the paper. How have the changes been received by readers?

Very well. I humbly submit we have given the newspaper a sense of purpose, a bit more of an identity. The platforms we have introduced are a sort of minimum guarantee that we will continue to do the things journalists should be doing. Provoking, surprising and celebrating.

Do the new sections provide fresh opportunities for feature-led content?

I think they do. Certainly we are introducing a bit more long-form journalism and a little more fun. Sparkling design remains important too.

How would you describe your relationship with PRs?

There’s certainly more of them nowadays falling over each other to tell us what is and isn’t a story. It takes strong characters in the newsroom to navigate the way through. Having said that there’s plenty of people in PR now who help us with genuinely good stories, the quirkier the better.

How can PRs help with content?

Great pictures are the way to my heart. In a land of UGC you can’t beat a cracking picture story. The other day a PR sent us some fantastic pictures of a Sussex vineyard for English Wine Week. I then and there decided it was our Life spread.

What is the best way for a PR to approach the team? How can they make their content stand out?

See above. Obviously don’t bolt your product onto a national or international event and think it’ll work. David Cameron may have won the election and now you can vote against against constipation etc etc... Go for the news editor of course but as above get to know the picture editor too. He or she will come into conference with a different angle.

Is there such a thing as the perfect story?

I’m not sure there’s a perfect story. Mine though came in the second week of my career when I stumbled across the fact that an alleged Nazi war criminal was living in our town. It’s been all downhill from there!

How closely does the print team work with your web journalists?

They are one and the same. It’s second nature for our journalists to want to be first online and to engage via social media. All content is shared although we still hold back the occasional good old fashioned “exclusive” for the newspaper.

The last couple of years has seen a number of closures and redundancies across regional press. What do you think is in store for regional press in the future?

More change I would guess but then there’s been constant change for the last 30 years. We have to battle to keep trust with our brands. If we can do that, opportunities to raise some cash for our journalism will come along.

What can you do to keep pace with, or stay ahead of, the competition?

Don’t forget the basics. Tell people stuff they didn’t know, not confirm their own prejudices.

How does The Argus make use of digital and social media?

We have to be right in there of course. As I said before it is second nature for young journalists. Like everyone else the growth of our digital audience means we have as much influence and reach as we’ve ever had.

Following the recent redesign of the paper, you said “everything’s an attempt to slow the decline in readership” - what else can papers do to attract new readers?

I think new readers do come by but it’s keeping them that’s the trick. That’s where the hard yards come in. Are you relevant? Is the newspaper compelling? I think design still has a role to play. Pages that showcase the clever juxtaposition of words, headlines and pictures amid the templates are a must.

What will be the big stories in the coming months?

Life after the Green-controlled council will be interesting. Brighton has plenty of issues to tackle like housing and mental health, a seafront that’s beginning to crumble and streets that are snarled with traffic. Having said that it’s still a great place of joy. There’s so many exciting things going on here that we need to reflect and take pleasure in.

And finally, you’ve worked in newsrooms all across the UK - is there a specific region that seems to attract the best news?

Not really. All stories are given weight by where they happen, obviously. I was in Edinburgh for the meltdown of RBS which was an astonishing story and in Belfast incredible stories happened virtually every day but in Brighton everything is up for debate about the future of the city. Everyone has a view which makes journalism important.

Mike was speaking to Gorkana's Caleb Greenland.