Instead of killing off British newspapers, the internet has presented them with a new opportunity

It’s 2014 and we’re still waiting for the British to catch up with America's digital pioneers

Share

Exactly a decade ago, in the week that Piers Morgan was frogmarched out of the Daily Mirror for publishing fake photos, Associated Newspapers finally took the plunge and launched dailymail.co.uk.

It was May 2004 and the storm clouds of the internet were hanging over the national press with a menace that could no longer be ignored. Associated’s decision had been taken after some deliberation and fully nine years after The Daily Telegraph became the first British national newspaper to go online.

At the time of the launch, Associated Newspapers executive Avril Williams noted that “a lot of stories featured in the paper are very long and don’t work on the web”.

The Mail had previously dipped its toes into the internet world by launching niche sites, including an offshoot of its Femail women’s pages.

“We don’t just put a newspaper online,” said Ms Williams.

They were prescient words and the showbiz-driven site is a very different animal from the print product. Even so, the success of Mail Online under publisher Martin Clarke was unimaginable in 2004.

Mail Online enjoys a monthly audience of 180 million and is the largest English-language news site in the world. In a recent interview with the New York Observer, Mr Clarke described plans to double his reporting team in the Big Apple and move to new offices in Lower Manhattan.

It’s not just the Mail – the British news media as a whole has seen the value of being more discreet about its national origins and wrapping itself in the mantle of “global publisher”. The Guardian was mocked when it set out its ambition to become “the world’s leading liberal voice” but, five years later – positioned to the left of The New York Times and enjoying growing recognition in the United States and Australia – its worldwide audience is  102 million and that grand claim is no longer implausible.

Beyond the Mail and The Guardian, a host of other British news brands are looking to build their global presence: notably the Telegraph, The Independent and the Mirror. The growth of English as the lingua franca not just of business but of most conversations involving speakers with different native tongues, offers opportunities for British news providers that are not there for the likes of Die Welt, De Telegraaf, Le Monde or Corriere della Sera.

While the five British brands mentioned trace a significant proportion of their traffic to North America, there is still considerable room for growth in territories such as India, South-east Asia, China and the Middle East, where there is considerable appetite for news in English.

The names of old Fleet Street have stepped on to the international stage with a greater confidence than most of their counterparts from other English-speaking countries. Their competitors consist largely of digital US news brands: the Huffington Post, Gawker, TMZ, Buzzfeed and Vice.

“International audiences respect our values and history,” says Rufus Olins, chief executive of Newsworks, which represents UK national titles. “When one looks at the global stage in a few years there will be a number of British news brands bestriding it.”

While the Mail’s intensive showbiz coverage and The Guardian’s liberal journalism have clearly found markets online, other British titles must work harder to show where they fit in to the global conversation.

In most newsrooms, tension remains between more serious content in the paper and click-friendly online material which produces greater traffic but sets a different tone.

The Telegraph's conundrum is that its brand of conservatism works well in print but can feel unadventurous online. Its blogs about Ukip are great drivers of traffic but take it into Fox News territory while doing little to persuade younger readers that the title is no longer the natural home of colonels in shires.

It is trying to shore up its reputation as a digital publisher with new travel and motoring apps and now, bizarrely, the football-based microsite The Babb Project, named after erstwhile Liverpool defender Phil Babb.

Telegraph editor-in-chief Jason Seiken says the site is aimed at a younger audience more likely to find Telegraph sports content on Facebook than on the main site. The name “project” reflects “more of a Silicon Valley approach than a traditional newspaper approach”, he says, adding that the paper needs to adopt a “digital native culture” if it is to thrive.

“We need to shed our perfectionism and launch offerings that are not as highly polished as the day’s newspaper but [allow you to] learn from how the audience is using them, and review and improve them,” he adds.

Although the site looks at global football, the Premier League is clearly another form of international currency that benefits British news sites.

It is not surprising that Trinity Mirror is developing its own football microsite, Mirror Row Zed, timed to coincide with Brazil 2014.

Paul Bradshaw, a professor in online journalism at City University in London, has been impressed with other Mirror digital initiatives: the laddish and Buzzfeed-inspired UsVsTh3m and the more serious but visual ampp3d, both of which are shaped by user data and encourage sharing on social media. “They’ve been successful in the UK and are going international,” he says.

Rather than causing the lingering death of British newspapers, the internet has brought opportunity. The downside is that the strength of these established news brands has stifled creativity elsewhere.

“There hasn’t been much innovation in news online,” says Bradshaw, of the lack of alternative UK sites.

It’s 2014 and we are still waiting for the British equivalents of Slate, Politico, Quartz, Salon and the Daily Beast, all American digital news brands with both feet on the global stage.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For once, Kerry Katona had the right idea

Dom Joly
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick