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Times editor Tony Gallagher: We’ve abolished meetings about the newspaper



Times editor Tony Gallagher has spoken about what he will and won’t do to reach young audiences and why he’s eyeing up AI to translate the newsbrand’s journalism into Spanish.

Gallagher joined an editors’ panel at the INMA World News Media Congress in London (for which Press Gazette was a media partner) on Thursday.

Gallagher joined The Times in September 2022, having moved across from editing News UK stablemate The Sun. He has also edited The Daily Telegraph and spent a long stint of his career at the Daily Mail.

Gallagher discussed how The Times is trying to reach a younger audience while noting that older readers are more valuable to advertisers and more likely to subscribe.

The average age of the digital Times subscriber is 49, and the average print subscriber is 53, he revealed.

According to recent research for Press Gazette, 32% of visits to The Times in January were from 18 to 34-year-olds – just below the average among the top 25 UK news websites of 35%.

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Panel moderator Jodie Hopperton, product and tech initiative lead at INMA, referred to a comment Gallagher had made to her earlier that “obviously we need to go after to younger readers, but we don’t want to look like your dad dancing”.

Gallagher explained: “I used to work for an organisation where the editor every second Sunday used a picture of the actress/swimsuit model Liz Hurley because he thought young people really wanted to see Liz Hurley. It epitomised what I think is wrong with going after that kind of audience – thinking that’s what young people want to look for.

“At The Times we hope they’ll come to us and we are making efforts to reach them but we can’t do that by having pictures of Taylor Swift everywhere. We’ve got student subscriptions, so last year, we introduced a £9.99 for the whole year – it’s £26 a month for most people – so we want to get them that way.

“We reach them via Instagram in particular, we’ve got a very high number of people that come to us via Instagram. The average age skews younger for Times Radio too, and we are now on Tiktok in a big way… we want the younger audience but I think they’ll come to us in due course.

“Bear in mind the older audience does have money to spend and is attractive to advertisers.”

The Times has one million followers on Instagram and 110,800 on Tiktok (with 3.9 million likes). News UK sister title The Sun, for comparison, has 424,000 followers on Instagram and two million followers on Tiktok (with 94.8 million likes).

Times ‘abolished’ all meetings about the newspaper

At The Times, Gallagher said, the challenge “is we’ve got a powerful legacy print media offering in the shape of a newspaper and my concern really was that we were a print newspaper with a digital business attached to it and what we’ve tried to do over the past couple of years is make it a digital business with a newspaper attached”.

As a result they have “abolished all meetings to do with the newspaper”.

Gallagher discussed how data has become “vital” in the newsroom but is still “not an end in itself”.

“So we’re guided by the data but we can’t be dictated by it,” he said. “So for instance this morning people were searching for the Welsh school stabbing – big tick, we’re into that. They’re searching for the crisis in the Scottish Parliament, we’re into that. And they were searching for Kanye West’s pornography website – we’re not into that, we don’t need to do anything on that.”

Paying digital-only subscribers to The Times and The Sunday Times totalled 558,000 at the end of June 2023, according to the company’s latest financial report, meaning they represented 83% of the overall total of 673,000.

Asked what the North Star metric is at The Times, Gallagher responded: “It’s more complicated than that. I mean, we’re very successful from the point of view of we have the most engaged audience of any of the News Corp titles, which is something we’re very proud of. But we’re also looking for engagement, the length of time they spend on the story, especially for subscribers, are they into it? Is it bringing us new audiences? To what extent is it reaching women and the younger audience?

[Read more: How under-35s’ interest in news has collapsed and what we can do about it]

“We look at all of those, and we come up with an overall score to tell us whether or not a story has done well. What we don’t want to do is stories that aren’t doing well. So we also measure where stories are getting, say, below 5,000 views and our data team will cast a quick eye on those and wonder why we’ve done those stories, and can we avoid doing them in the future?

“The answer is not always, there are some things we’ll still have to do. But we definitely want to be doing journalism that has the most impact. But it has to be journalism that’s in our lane. So there won’t be a Kanye West pornography story but there will be the stories that people expect to find in The Times.”

Gallagher ‘cautiously optimistic about AI – but they should pay us’

Discussing the arrival of ChatGPT, Gallagher said he was “cautiously optimistic and excited about the things we can do with AI.

“The first thing I would say is they need to start paying us. They’re ripping off our content, and we would like them to pay for it. And once we get that out of the way, we’ll be even more excited about it.”

Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp which ultimately owns The Times, has said the company is looking to do a deal with AI companies, although nothing has been signed yet, and that “in my view those who are repurposing our content without approval are stealing”.

[Read more: Why Axel Springer CEO Mathias Dopfner made ‘pact with the devil’ on generative AI]

Gallagher said The Times is experimenting with generative AI to come up with different headlines and get rid of “mechanical tasks” like caption writing.

He added: “I’m excited about, for instance, I don’t think we could be very far away with some human interaction from translating everything that The Times does into Spanish. Why couldn’t we do that for the fastest-growing foreign language in the world?

“You’d obviously have to have sub-editors looking at it, making sure it’s alright in style, and there aren’t any howlers in it et cetera. But if AI could do that for us, that would be fantastic.”

New York Times executive editor Joseph Kahn similarly told the INMA conference he was “cautiously optimistic” about AI and that looking at whether it could help translate articles from English into Spanish was a “high priority”.

“Eventually, we would love to be able to make a lot more New York Times journalism available in multiple languages,” Kahn said. “That’s on a slower path – we found that although the translation tools are promising, they’re not quite there yet.”

[Read more: How New York Times plans to cover Donald Trump’s third presidential campaign]

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