As ExaminerLive launches with Axate, we look at what the team in Huddersfield has learned since charging for local journalism

Behind Local News
Sep 15 · 4 min read

Earlier this month ExaminerLive decided to bring in a pay-as-you-go system to charge readers for access to certain stories on the website. How has this gone down? What are the team learning about what their audience will pay for? Has the newsroom changed? ExaminerLive Publisher and executive editor Lauren Ballinger takes up the story.

Destination restaurant in Huddersfield. Readers love our restaurant reviews so we thought we’d see if they would pay for them — and it turns out they would!

“Rather rip my tits off and set them on fire tbh.”

That was one ExaminerLive reader’s response when we announced we were bringing in a 25p micropayment for some of our stories.

We have a reputation in Yorkshire for being tight with money but this seemed a bit extreme.

Thankfully not all ExaminerLive readers share her sentiments, as sign ups in week one of the trial have far surpassed our expectations.

The company we’ve teamed up with is called Axate, who you may have heard of if you read Popbitch or The Cricketer. It’s not a paywall — the newsdesk chooses which stories to add the payment to. Readers use a digital wallet to pay 25p for the full tale, and once they’ve paid for four, everything else is free for the rest of the week.

We knew the response we would get from readers when we started asking them to pay for something they’d been enjoying for free for several years.

Lauren Ballinger, publisher at ExaminerLive
Lauren Ballinger, publisher at ExaminerLive
Lauren Ballinger, publisher at ExaminerLive

Quite a lot of time on day one of the trial was taken up with replying to Facebook comments, trying to explain to readers what we are doing and why.
Dozens were absolutely aghast at being asked to pay 25p to read a story.

We explained that like any other business, it is unsustainable for us to keep giving our product away for free.

I don’t know if that message got through, but one week in, the analytics are showing us people are signing up every day and paying to read our content.

The best performing piece so far is by our social affairs reporter Nick Lavigueur.

Student accommodation in Huddersfield town centre was evacuated due to fire safety fears — and a leaked document showed the block of flats had 220 flaws.

We all know the work that goes into a story like this — and without Nick’s persistent digging, nobody in Huddersfield would know anything about it.

Fire safety flaws at student accommodation in Huddersfield. So far this story has had the most payments.

I hope explaining this to our readers on Facebook got through to one or two, but if not, there’s always the likes of a revamp at a ‘disgusting’ hotel; a drunken defendant getting kicked out of court; 30 archive pictures of Thongsbridge and Thurstonland, and a food review at a new curry house to tempt them.

Nostalgia pictures were one of the first things we all agreed we’d try to get readers to pay for. They are unique to us and readers love them.

ExaminerLive has been riding high this year with some of our best ever page view performances, so it’s a good time for us to trial Axate — as people are also getting used to being asked to pay for digital content.

Bradford’s Telegraph & Argus has just brought in a paywall; several JPIMedia titles are using them and of course it’s the norm on some of the nationals now.

The industry’s challenges are common knowledge, but with the BBC, Facebook and Google funding reporter programmes, the idea local journalism is valuable and needs to be supported is becoming pretty mainstream too.

We’ve got plans in the pipeline to look after our supporters; we want to meet them, chat to them, discuss what we are doing and most of all let them know we really value their contribution.

Digital publishing has given us an an insight into our audience we never had with print — it tells us which stories people are reading — and which ones they aren’t.

Our Axate trial will take this understanding one step further — we will find out which stories our readers think are worth getting out their virtual wallets and paying for.

In his letter announcing the news our editor Wayne Ankers said: “For years our customers have paid for a newspaper but people have become accustomed to receiving news online for free.

“However our journalism costs money to produce.

“Thanks to our website we are reaching more people than ever before each day but continuing to give away our content for free is difficult to sustain.

“We often get asked by our loyal readers how they can support us, and I look forward to discussing our new approach with you all.

“Your support really matters and it will allow us to continue to produce quality coverage of Huddersfield and Kirklees.”

Read more: Analytics help newsrooms care for readers, says Senior Editor

Read more: How we built a profitable local news website in Belfast

Behind Local News UK

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Behind Local News UK

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

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