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The Times was the first general interest newspaper in Britain to go behind a paywall, making the move to a paid content model in 2010.

The model, which many industry commentators had criticised at the time, delivered a profit – the newspaper's books went from showing a combined loss of £70 million in 2009 to an operating profit of £1.7 million in 2014.

But being radical is as much about what you don't do as it is about what you choose to do, explained Alan Hunter, head of digital, The Times and Sunday Times, speaking at the Media Subscriptions Summit in London in April.

"Our model was the hardest of hard paywalls, you couldn’t read anything without paying.

"But we needed to find a new audience."

In 2016, the team launched registered access on the website, offering readers who created an account two free articles a week.

Hunter explained this had a postive long-term impact on subscriptions, as a number of readers began to pay after being registered for over a year.

"When we look at our past paywall, it was probably too hard," he said, adding that it "did establish in readers' minds that you need to pay".

One of the side effects of developing the digital paywall has been the fact that "print is holding its own", he added.

"It amazes me that people give away everything digitally and still expect people to pay for the newspaper."

The newsroom doesn't follow fashions or respond to what other media organisations are experimenting with unless the digital team sees a clear value in engaging.

The Times also doesn't chase breaking news, as its readers often come to the title for in-depth analysis after hearing the news elsewhere.

The paid-content model has enabled The Times to wait and get things right, both concerning its editorial and its digital strategy.

The journalists are not obligated to write headlines for SEO where it risks to compromise the journalistic value of a story, said Hunter, nor is The Times "all in" on social media. Social networks are marketing platforms for the organisation – "we didn’t believe in distributed content," he said.

"Algorithm changes have some effect but frankly not very much. We are sparing with our use of video. We prioritise the reading experience in all our products. Sometimes they can look a little bare but they allow people to read without interruptions."

In an effort to perfect this clean reading experience, The Times has also removed pull quotes from its online stories. While in print they serve a clear function, drawing people's eyes to a particular story, they serve no purpose online, explained Hunter.

Investing in staff has also been an important step, with training sessions organised to help journalists identify the right format for their stories. The Times's approach to digital skills is to "train the journalists you have and hire the ones you need".

The newsroom is also planning to undergo a content review to identify the formats and stories that work best for its readers.

"This will produce big changes in the kind of journalism that we do. My hunch is we’ll end up doing more investigations," concluded Hunter.

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