Journal Media targets jump in traffic and turnover as it recruits more staff

The company behind TheJournal.ie wants to double users in Ireland and attract international readers

When TheJournal.ie launched four years ago, it was with a newsroom of five journalists and five technology staff. The company now employs about 45 people, with plans to create 35 jobs set to take its workforce to 80.

Having reached the end of the original four-year plan for the "news for smartphone users" venture, Journal Media chief executive Brian Fallon says the company is "within a hair's breadth" of making a profit. But making profits are a longer-term concern. For now, its focus is on investment.

"We're investing over the next couple of years. We think there's an opportunity to get bigger, but it's time-bound. The opportunity is now," Fallon says. The sum that he and his brother Eamonn Fallon, of Daft.ie fame, have invested to date and that they plan to put into the venture has not been disclosed.

Turnover for 2015 is projected to grow to €5 million, a big jump up for the just under €3 million figure expected for 2014, and a planned extension of its news coverage, particularly in sport and business, is the main reason why it is hiring.

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Its sport publication, TheScore.ie, is rebranding as The42, while business will be the next area, after sport and the entertainment-focused DailyEdge.ie, to get its own app.

In 2010, the volume of original content on TheJournal.ie was much lower than it is today. “The differences between the Journal newsroom and any other newsroom is probably decreasing over time,” says Fallon, who cites the fact that it now has two political reporters based in the Dáil.

Does he regard the next general election as a chance to show more people what it can do? “Every national event gives us an opportunity to try and compete,” he says. “It’s good for everybody if every media company is trying to innovate.”

Fallon says the focus of the business in its first 18 months was to build an editorial template “that people would like and enjoy”. Coming from a web development rather than a journalism background, it was not something that was instinctive to him.

“We thought the opportunity was to cater for people who want news on their smartphone.”

In 2012, it “started getting serious” about the mobile audience, going “mobile-first”, which Fallon describes as “a break in our thinking”. Unlike desktop traffic, which tends to be busiest in the morning, activity on its mobile brands peaks at about 10pm, he says, attributing it to “people checking their phones before they go to sleep”.

App readers, unlike those who come to its stories via social media links, are much like newspaper readers. “They’re the people who like the mix of content and they read it every day. To build app readership, you need to have a well-rounded editorial product.”

Native advertising is a necessary part of the mix – indeed, almost a third of its revenues come from this source. "We're the pioneers of native advertising in Ireland, " Fallon claims.

The category breaks down into two: advertorial, clearly marked as such with “sign-off” from the advertiser, and sponsored content, where the brand doesn’t have sign-off but pays for an association.

The purpose, as with advertiser-funded programming on television, is to “build a brand story”, he says. “The content has to be good enough on its own for people to want to consider reading it. Native ads need to have a certain quality, otherwise people won’t click again.”

Ads should be marked as ads, he says – on its apps, tabs for native ads are labelled “sponsored” and shaded yellow. “I think if you are not clear about what is paid-for content, you shoot yourself in the foot.”

Given media operations dependent on online advertising for revenues need a certain amount scale to be viable, it is not surprising that Journal Media now hopes to court internationally-based readers through its lifestyle, entertainment and sport coverage.

“Our goal is to double readership in Ireland, but also take advantage of opportunities overseas as they exist,” says Fallon. “The scale of what we have set out for ourselves is pretty big.”

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics