Does a blank front page herald a new era at the Liverpool Echo?

#TellAli is the call to action on the front of the Liverpool Echo where a reader survey has been launched across all platforms in a bid to prepare the ground for changes to the print edition in July.

‘Ali’  is Ali Machray the editor, who has tasked himself with producing a paper more attuned to the Merseyside of 2015 rather than well, the past.

For me, anything which encourages customer feedback has got to be welcomed and fair play to the Echo for this move. I think you have to be in a position of relative strength to have the confidence to open such the windows a bit to let some fresh air in.

No doubt cynics will say that it will prove to be just a superficial exercise but let’s give credit where it’s due and save the cynicism for later.

The survey on page 11 of the print edition ( known to some insiders as the ‘legacy product’,I’m told) seems to give a hint of the direction the paper is heading.

 

Hold the front page

 

The five ‘questions’ (in fact they’re statements with a question mark at the end, with an option for the reader to ‘agree’or ‘disagree’) relate to issues across a range of areas such as whether their crime stories “are sometimes a bit over the top” ? [online version]

Or “The Echo “doesn’t always paint Liverpool in a positive light?” agree/disagree

And ” I would find it really useful if the Echo told me more about things I could do in Liverpool?” agree/disagree

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the way in which they have been phrased betrays a Machiavellian touch here. Are we witnessing a genuine appeal for feedback or is it a bit like asking questions to which you already know the answer, because you’ve already done some informed research?

Such momentary cynicism aside, overall it’s still a useful exercise both externally, and no doubt internally within Trinity Mirror, and the most impressive and potentially fruitful section from an accountability point of view is “What’s the one message you’d like to give to our editor?” (I think I might read those replies alone in a room if I were Ali.)

The nearest thing I ever came to such a survey moment was many years ago when Focus Groups were the “Next Big Thing” in the BBC.

It was a hugely useful exercise as out of it came a suggestion from a member of the group about a potential radio presenter whom he thought we should recruit and who later joined the radio station as a direct result of my approach. Yes, of course I gave him all the credit for the idea 🙂 .

How far things will change at the Echo we’ll have to wait and see. Along with many others I suspect, I’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall when the readers’ responses are collated and discussed.

We won’t be waiting too long according to Machray who said on the Radio Merseyside phone-in that the changes will be implemented in July.

Don’t underestimate the difficult balancing trick that he has to negotiate either —- keeping the traditional readers engaged, maybe persuading a few lapsed readers to rejoin, broadening the online audience and of course keeping Trinity Mirror and ‘erm the advertisers happy.

But hell, that’s what he’s paid for.

Circulation-wise according to HoldtheFrontPage.co.uk’s analysis, the official ABC figures circulation for the print edition of the Echo fell by more than 10% in the 12 months to February 2014…but the full monthly figures for print show a steady performance particularly compared to other regionals.

And I bet Ali regularly offers thanks that he’s not running the Birmingham Mail where circulation has plummeted by more than 24% over the same yearly period.

 

Does crime really pay?

 

From an editorial point of view, the level of crime coverage in the Echo has long been a bone of contention among critics but Ali has usually argued that crime does pay in this instance, and that it’s a simple truth that people buy papers if there’s a big crime story on the front page.

But his comments on the radio, and the way in which the survey statement is written indicate to me that perhaps the level of crime coverage will decrease so we should probably expect a slight shift in emphasis, perhaps with less prominence given to ‘mid-table’ crime stories, to borrow a football analogy.

As I wrote in a recent blog, Liverpool as a city region has made considerable strides in recent years, along with other ” Northern Powerhouse cities”but many feel there has been a tendency among some journalists over the years (me included, mea culpa) to occasionally fall back on the old stereotypes of what we think the public want…footy, crime, footy, celeb gossip and more footy and crime.

A lot of eyes will be on the Echo in July to see a) how it’s different and b) whether the changes last.

And if it’s successful will the process be repeated across certain other regionals in the Trinity regional stable?

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