Court stories the ones people are most likely to pay for online, publisher reveals

Edward Iliffe, CEO of Iliffe Media

The founder of an independent publisher has dismissed the notion that readers aren’t interested in court coverage — saying it’s the one type of story his readers are prepared to pay for online.

But Edward Iliffe, who owns Iliffe Media, warned that coverage of courts was becoming far harder due to changes in the court system, with reporters at some of his titles having to go on 100-mile round trips to coverage relatively minor court cases.

He urged peers to push the courts service to make transcripts on all court cases available to journalists.

In a wide-ranging discussion with peers at an oral evidence session yesterday, Edward also called for social media companies to be governed by the same publishing rules as everyone else and suggested a full review into the market dominance big tech has over online advertising.

But he also said his company wasn’t interested in having its public interest journalism subsidised by the government, saying he believed publishers needed to stand on their own two feet.

Edward, whose titles range from the Kent Messenger to Cambridge Independent, was speaking at a hearing of the Lords Communications and Digital Committee, which is seeking to identify ways public policy could support local journalism.

He told peers: There’s an awful lot of data that certainly central government and government, local government have, which could be made more accessible through through through the use of internet technology.

“One example would be the transcripts of court reporting. We’ve been led to believe that court reporting is of limited interest to the general public. We don’t believe that to be the case.

“We did a micro payments test at one of our newspapers where we would charge 20p to read content.

“Strangely, most of the content the people paid for was for court reporting.

“The problem that we have with court reporting now is that the courts have generally been centralised and therefore don’t actually sit in many of our publishing areas that traditionally our offices are in.

“Bury St Edmunds for instance, is 50 miles from Ipswich, which is where the court now resides. So if I want to cover a court case relating to some misdemeanour in Bury St Edmunds, I have to travel 100 miles on a round trip on the off chance that the court is running to timetable, to get the story.

“ If that story could just be transcript to the made available on online then our journalists could deal with that from anywhere in the world, quite frankly.

“But that is not a transcript that the general public want to read. They want to read journalists’ view and opinion, that’s what we’re trying to provide.

“I think that could apply to an awful lot of government data and so on.”

Iliffe Media is one of a number of publishers which has trialled micropayments with start-up Axate. Reach is another, which trialled the service on the ExaminerLive website prior to its relaunch as YorkshireLive. It too saw strong uptake of payment for court stories.

Edward also called for social media companies to be obliged to pay for content they make use of — just as local publishers have to pay to create it in the first place.

Asked what public policy steps could be taken to help publishers, he said: “The main one is to widen the principles of what is deemed to be published and thereby ensure that content abides by long established publishing rules.

“Why should social media have immunity from publishing rules that the long established media has to abide by?

“If it’s just to apply, social media would, in my view, seek to buy content from those that produce quality content and the content originators would be would indemnify of the platforms for the content.

“I don’t I don’t think social media will become a publisher in its own right, but originating content. But I think it can disseminate the content and pay for it. And so therefore, I would think some some means of getting social media platforms into the real realm of publishers would be extremely helpful.

“In our own industry, we’re regulated by IPSO for online and Ofcom for our radio output. So why why should social media be exempt?”

Looking at the advertising sector, Edward said: “The large media companies, particularly Google, Apple, Microsoft, substantially control the advertising markets by virtue of controlling both the hardware and the software.

“And it’s it’s a bit opaque as to how all of that really works. I think that is something that competitions markets authority could probably look into to see if they could make that more widely available to other other entrants, other the market providers.

At a time when calls are growing for more direct Government support for public interest journalism, Edward stressed that was not something which interested his company.

He said: “We are not advocating any form of local funding. We do not want government backing in that sense. We don’t see the subsidy of any form is helpful. I think we need to remain independent and be able to stand up on our own two feet.”

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The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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probably would react the same tbh

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