Being better

I was reading the memoirs of former Q editor Ted Kessler on holiday when I stumbled across a passage that had me nodding so vigorously that the woman on the adjacent sun lounger must have thought I was having some kind of medical episode.

Recalling an all-too-recognisible strategy session ahead of the latest relaunch of his music magazine – attended by a selection of suits whose sonic explorations began and ended with The Joshua Tree – he mused: “Radical change is usually what is proposed when being better is too difficult. It’s always hot air to get out of a tight jam at that given moment.”

‘Being better’ rather than radical reinvention is pretty much the philosophy that underpinned some recent tweaks we made under the radar at KentOnline, Iliffe Media’s flagship website.

The most important role any manager can perform is to put the right people in the right jobs and then give them the freedom to do them brilliantly – with the occasional boot up the bum to let them know you are watching.

In the case of KentOnline, that meant disbanding the existing structure that saw a stand-alone digital newsdesk working alongside editors overseeing their own individual titles from offices across the county.

Instead everyone is now focused on feeding the almighty KentOnline news beast, with the newspapers coming at the end of the production cycle.

Before any naysayers pipe up, that doesn’t mean print has to suffer – just the opposite. Focus people on relevant, engaging content and all platforms benefit. Maybe we’ll just be writing fewer of those nibs about bin recycling days, which in truth only ever existed to fill a hole on a page.

It’s early days – exactly one month in to be precise – but the initial signs are hugely encouraging. In fact, August was the biggest month in KentOnline’s 20-year-plus history, with our stories read more than 30 million times. I’ll take that.

Pleasingly, the articles our most valuable readers want aren’t the ones involving a reporter doing something utterly unremarkable or utterly stupid and writing about it as if they’d travelled to the moon. (‘I went shopping in Poundland and couldn’t believe how cheap it was‘ or ‘I ate at every zero-rated takeaway in town and spent a week on the toilet’ etc.)

Nor is it a diet of crime and traffic news, as important as these are. We are getting the best response from the stories that involve detailed reporting on the issues that really matter to people, ideally offering solutions and conclusions.

Travellers camped in your local park? Tell the story for sure – but also look at why they are there, listen to everyone’s views and examine what can be done to defuse the inevitable tensions.

Rental prices pushing prices beyond the reach of most of your readers? Find an engaging way to draw people in and then really get into the issue.

The restructure included new senior editor roles for Joe Walker and Matt Ramsden, each overseeing one half of the county. They work alongside multimedia editor Nicola Everett, who is charged with developing our podcast portfolio and ensuring we are joined up across our digital, print and radio platforms.

Amy Nickalls and Phil Hayes occupy the all-important roles of Head of News for each half of the county, with day-to-day responsibility for the KentOnline homepage.

They are backed up by a fantastic team of news editors working on round-the-clock rotas to ensure consistency of coverage. (They don’t often get credit for the toughest job in the newsroom so take a bow Lowri Chant, Nikki White, Jenni Horn, Claire McWethy, Matt Le Clere, Dan Wright, Sam Williams, Jack Dyson, Steve Waite.)

We’ve also gone back to the future in some areas.

Former KentOnline news editor Lynn Cox is now getting her teeth into a new role overseeing our coverage of magistrates’ courts and industrial tribunals, two areas that have been – no pun intended – criminally neglected by our industry for, ooh, at least a decade.

Ed McConnell, a prodigiously talented writer (no matter what landlord Fergus Wilson may say) is leading on our newsletter and social strategy with some major changes coming this month.

It’s incredibly important to stay on top of the latest developments in the wider industry. For instance, the recently-announced Google algorithm changes which aim to reflect the original source of stories rather than those who have ripped them off will hopefully have a real, benficial impact on regional publishers’ traffic.

But it’s even more important to remember the basics – the story always comes first.

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