It’s about balancing the good news with the bad. This was one of the key takeaways from the last panel Tuesday at the INMA World Congress, talking about different ways to optimise print.

Alastair Machray, Charlotte Ross, and Denise Turner discussed how they found success with print in an increasingly digital world.

Liverpool Echo's editor relaunched the newspaper to include more positive news.
Liverpool Echo's editor relaunched the newspaper to include more positive news.

Machray, editor-in-chief of the Liverpool Echo, talked about the transformations the media company underwent before its re-launch last July. Once the company realised it wasn’t portraying the current day Liverpool, it knew it had to make a change.

Liverpool residents have pride in their city, and that needed to be relayed throughout the newspaper as well, rather than filling the pages with negative news like crime and violence.

Machray turned to Echo’s readers and asked: “What do you want us to do with it?”

Readers responded with the same answer they found in their formal research: The people wanted less crime coverage and to feel good about the city in which they lived.

Echo listened. It took the research findings, and redesigned.

“We wanted to do something different,” he said.

After the re-launch, the company has seen a stabilisation of circulating trends in Liverpool. And its advertisers love the change as well.

However, Machray still wanted Echo to be a proper newspaper.

“I made it clear that I would not edit a newspaper that thought the murder of a child was not a front-page news story,” he added. It’s about balancing the good news with the bad.

Ross, the deputy editor of the London Evening Standard, agreed regarding the changing of a newspaper’s tone from negative to positive.

The London Evening Standard's editor speaks about decision to switch to free circulation.
The London Evening Standard's editor speaks about decision to switch to free circulation.

In 2009, the London Evening Standard made the decision to switch to free circulation in a time when standard circulation was on decline.

“Everything we do stems from the newspaper. It’s our mothership,” she said.

Switching from paid to free circulation didn’t come easy. There were many heated meetings and cuts that had to be made. After reducing delivery costs and parts of the editorial staff, the Evening Standard was ready to reconnect with London.  

“We set our sights on being not only a newspaper, but also one of the pillars of London life,” she said.  

The company started a campaign apologising to the city with billboards reading “sorry for being negative” and “sorry for being unpleasant.” These apologies didn’t come easy for the company either, especially since its staff had worked hard on the content for which it was now apologising.

The company has now found success with this free circulation business model; however, the staff understands that it is not for every company.

Before going free, it had a 600,000 circulation. In 2016, the Evening Standard now has a circulation of 902,000.

“That’s the great thing about newspaper; it never runs out of battery,” she said.

Panelists pointed out that reader attention is different in the digital age.
Panelists pointed out that reader attention is different in the digital age.

Denise Turner, director of insights at Newsworks, took the conversation in a different direction. She compared the two types of attention: sustained/selected and divided. Sustained attention is the ability to focus despite distractions, while divided attention is alternating attention between two channels of information at a time.

“We are in the business of attracting people’s attention,” she said, noting the attention equation of attention= solus media usage + (multimedia usage x high focus).

The first part of the equation is solus media usage. Print newspapers, short online videos, broadcast television, and commercial radio are a few of the media that receive solus media usage, or only focusing on one medium. Adding multi-media and high focus drives overall attention even higher.

Attention drives a powerful response, she said.