Radio 4’s Today programme on Metro’s 10th birthday

To mark the 10th birthday of UK freesheet Metro, Steve Auckland, head of the paper’s free division, and Roy Greenslade, journalism professor and media commentator, discussed the impact of the the free newspaper on news consumption and the print industry on this morning’s Today programme (available at this link until March 23).

Steve Auckland, head of the free division at Associated Newspapers, succinctly explained the paper’s remit as a commuter’s newspaper.

“We’re there for a 20-minute read,” he explained, adding that stories outside of the lifestyle section are kept to around five paragraphs to facilitate this.

“I think we’ve just brought in a fresh group of readers who had been lost to the industry before. Those paid-for papers hadn’t been attracting younger readers,” argued Auckland.

What the paper isn’t doing, however, is helping to encourage these younger, freesheet readers to switch to paid-fors later in life, as Greenslade suggested:

“What is dificult to divine is whether they are converting to paid-fors (…) They are stuck on the idea that all news is free (…) and they are not graduating, as was thought to be the case, from a free newspaper to a paid-for newspaper later.”

While Metro has had a negative effect on sales of regional dailies and tabloid titles, he added, it has helped, but is not the major reason for the long-term decline facing the newspaper industry.

Greenslade said he sees free titles, such as Metro, as part of the news mix for future consumers, with short, sharp news ‘bullets’ in print supplemented by news, opinion and analysis online.

“As far as I’m concerned we will continue to grow Metro (…) many of the [other paid-for] papers are well-resourced operations and they’ll ride out this recession,” added Auckland.

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