Up Country: the Nelson Mail’s Victoria Guild on the allure of local content, the paper’s digital audience and Fairfax’s newsroom shake-up

In conjunction with News Works, the Up Country series talks with some of New Zealand’s top regional newspaper editors about the performance of their titles in print and online, the role local news plays in regional communities, where they see the industry going and why advertisers should stick with them. Next up, Victoria Guild, editor of the Nelson Mail

  • See if you know heaps or stuff all about the regions by doing our ‘how regional are you?’ quiz here
  • To find out more on specific regions, check out News Works’ mix of interesting facts here.
  • And check out the most recent newspaper circulation and readership results here

How important is the Nelson Mail—in print and online—to the region and the region’s businesses?

The Nelson Mail is the main source of news and information in the region and has always had a big influence in the community. Since being able to measure our digital audience, stories about new businesses opening (particularly food!) are some of our best read. Whenever there is a breaking news story, the Nelson Mail online – on Stuff and Facebook – is the go-to site for many in the region. Our position in the community remains strong.

The numbers don’t lie. And circulation and readership for most papers are declining. But do you feel like the ‘hyperlocal’ approach is coming back into vogue as news becomes increasingly commoditised? And does this put smaller regional news outlets like yours in a better position than some of the larger metros?

Smaller regional newspapers have always had a more ‘hyperlocal’ approach than the larger metros, and now even more so with dedicated local pages. There had been an inclination in the past to scatter national stories through the paper, mostly as `fillers’ due to lack of local copy, but now we focus on local as much as possible, and some days don’t have enough space for all the great stories we write. This gives us a point of difference to the metros, which is crucial as they are also sold in our market.

Do you think there’s a misperception in the market about the viability of regional newspapers and the role they play in the community? Why should advertisers stick with them? 

The decline of newspapers worldwide has been well-publicised with many commentators declaring print dead. But regional newspapers are still the best way for a local business to reach local clients. If readership is based on a figure of 2.5 times circulation, then we are reaching about 30 percent of residents in our region – our community papers even more. With good stories and advertising support, regional papers are still very viable.

There’s been plenty of change to the Fairfax newsrooms, with the new regional editor roles coming into play recently as part of the News Rewired project and most of your content now running on stuff.co.nz. Has that been a blessing or a curse?

Neither, it’s just different. The way we work has changed and we have to recognise we are part of a nationwide newsroom and serve both regional and national audiences. That’s exciting. It has freed us from the confines of print as we are able to publish throughout the day, to a far larger audience than our print product alone. Our reporters get a huge buzz out of being on the Stuff homepage as they know many more people are reading their stories. It has also eased the deadline rush of everything arriving at once.

Give us an example of a time when an advertiser benefited from being in your paper or on your website?

We had a homepage `takeover’ coupled with print ads for a Fresh Choice store celebrating 20 years which was hugely successful. The store owner was blown away by the response and is still talking about it, encouraging other stores to investigate opportunities with Fairfax.

With the rise of branded content and native advertising, there’s been plenty of talk about the boundaries between editorial and sales blurring. What’s your view on that? Has it become a necessary evil? 

Branded content and native advertising are an online way of running ad features which have always been a part of print. As long as it is clearly tagged, the reader knows what they are getting.

Editorial independence is critical to maintain integrity, but editorial and sales do need to work together more to benefit the company. That could be as simple as letting advertising know about features or series we are planning, or advertising letting us know about new things happening in the market which could be of interest to our readers (see food businesses above).

Which stories—or series of stories—stick out as the best examples of what your title does best?

Championing the good stuff people in our community are doing. We are currently running a series on mountain biking in our region after being awarded an international gold ranking, and have featured the people behind the scenes who volunteer to help make our tracks great, among others. It’s had a huge response, not just in this region but also around the country.

In winter, limited daylight results in reduced riding time for Nelson’s growing mountainbike community. Our visual…

Posted by The Nelson Mail on Tuesday, 13 October 2015

You’ve got almost 10,000 fans on Facebook. What role does social media play when it comes to community engagement?

We have hit 10,000! It plays a huge role, encouraging people to comment and leading to more stories and follow ups. It’s crucial in breaking news as readers provide us with more information as well as photos and video, and we can help answer their questions.

Last week we used Periscope to live stream Nelson’s Masked Parade which is one of the biggest walking parades in the Southern hemisphere involving thousands of school children and community group members – it was a big success and attracted even more people to our Facebook page and website.

If you can’t make the Masked Parade our reporter is on the scene sending regular live video dispatches via periscope. Click to see the action.

Posted by The Nelson Mail on Thursday, 15 October 2015

How would you characterise your typical reader? And do you think there are some inaccurate stereotypes about the demographic make up of your region? 

Our print readers are typically older, but our online audience traverses all ages. We have certainly attracted more younger people to our stories through Stuff and Facebook. Interestingly, the worthy stories often attract comment from people who may never have seen the story if it had only been in print and they often have plenty to say.

The Nelson region is probably stereotyped as housing pensioners, greenies, artists and hippies, but in fact it also houses the highest average IQ in the country, and a great number of exceptional sporting teams – like the Giants and the Makos – and individuals. The best thing about Nelson is that most people who live here choose to live here because of its natural beauty, good weather, great lifestyle and interesting mix of residents.

“How hard is it to write a song?””Sometimes it’s hard,” Toogood said. “You get ideas from other songs, you don’t have to copy them.””Like One Direction?” a girl asked.”Not really.”

Posted by The Nelson Mail on Wednesday, 14 October 2015

What is your vision for the newspaper and website? What will it look like in five years?

My vision is they will complement each other, with the newspaper providing a great platform for our best stories, selected for a specific audience, as well as backgrounders and insights into the most vexing issues. It will be more of a magazine-style read. The website will be the place for breaking news as well as the rest of our stories in easily navigated sections, and the mobile site will have snapshots, with bigger reads available if readers want them. There will be video with every story.

Give us your most impressive statistic about the Nelson region and/or the Nelson Mail.  

The average temperature in February is 23.5 degrees, and it rains fewer than five days in the month, making it the perfect place to have a holiday or hold international cricket test matches (provided those five days of rain don’t coincide with the cricket).

In March next year, the Nelson Mail will have been publishing for 150 years, no mean feat for any business.

Sauvignon blanc or IPA?

Sauvignon blanc.

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