It is perhaps a sign of the success of Trinity Mirror’s web-savvy projects Ampp3d, UsVsTh3m and Row Zed that reports of their closure have generated such strong reactions from journalists across a range of titles.
UsVsTh3m launched in early 2013; Ampp3d towards the end of the same year. The launches themselves represented a fresh approach to mainstream publishing online: standalone teams free to innovate without the baggage of print costs, systems and cultures.
The projects were initially given 3 months to prove their worth as separate projects but ended up becoming part of the Mirror site and sticking around for 2 years.
On those grounds alone UsVsTh3m, Ampp3d – and Row Zed in 2014 – have been a success. They achieved what they set out to do, and more.
But they have also had a massive influence on the wider industry – an influence which may have contributed to their closure.
Since their launches a lot has changed in publishing – much of it due in part to the paths blazed by Martin Belam’s teams.
The agile and independent approach to product launches that Belam advocated has now become commonplace: A Telegraph staffer says that UsVsTh3m was “inspirational” when they launched its own Project Babb as Row Zed was being planned; The Independent got in the game with i100.
More recently The Sun attempted its own Ampp3d/UsVsTh3m clone with Sun Nation and Sky’s mobile-native election coverage came with a dose of UsVsTh3m too. Even The Times and the FT are willing to devote time to standalone experiments and hackday-driven innovation.
When Ampp3d and UsVsTh3m moved from being standalone sites to part of the Mirror, that influence spread internally too: after Ampp3d has gone quiet, Trinity Mirror’s data unit in Manchester still carry the torch for data journalism. After Row Zed has left the stadium and UsVsTh3m has its last fight, Trinity Mirror’s social media unit and social media editors will continue the practices it pioneered.
Look across Trinity Mirror titles and you see an ability to write snappy web copy that was rare two years ago. It’s not at the standard that Belam’s teams pioneered, but it’s a start.
I am incredibly sad for the team that Trinity Mirror will be making redundant. Some of them I consider good friends, and many of them I taught. They have been part of something seminal: that’s a rare experience, and its end will hurt.
But I am also incredibly happy, and proud, of what they have achieved.
They will look at the tweets today and see that they have a lot of fans in the industry. Indeed, at one point the terms ‘usvsth3m’ & ‘ampp3d’ were trending in London. Now they get to work in an industry they helped to shape. Watch them fly.
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So I’m going to leave a comment here, because… well, I guess it’s that or wank on for far too long on Medium, and nobody wants that. Everything you’ve said here is spot on, but I think the influence goes even further than just the (cough) “old media” orgs that have publically launched UvT/ampp3ed-inspired projects. UsVsTh3m may have been a print group’s attempt to work out how to “do a BuzzFeed”, but it ended up doing things that plenty of new media orgs have also learned from. I know this from quite close up; I was on the UvT launch team, and now run the New Formats team at BuzzFeed. Our approach to it there is pretty different, but the name is 100% nicked from what Martin was doing at Trinity Mirror – as is the central idea, which is that if you have talented writers, developers and designers working together, sat next to each other as part of the same editorial team, good things will happen.
There’s one moment I always remember, which came after I’d left. October 9, 2013. Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, made a comment in the Commons that morning about the failed badger cull – he blamed the badgers for “moving the goalposts”, which was obviously hilarious. What I love is that you can trace, to the minute, the time from when my mate Francis suggested to UsVsTh3m that they do an “Owen Paterson’s Badger Penalty Shootout” game, to when they put it live. 4 hours and 21 minutes to publish a fully playable game about a news event that happened that morning. Nobody else could come close to doing that then; nobody else has got anywhere close since. They were, in the most literal sense possible, playing a different game to everybody else.
Quite where it went wrong is a matter for another day, but my guess would be that Trinity Mirror didn’t know what they had – they seemed to limit funding for it at exactly the point they should have aggressively expanded. TM’s current explanation (that they weren’t delivering the traffic given their supposedly high cost) may be true right now, I’ve no idea, but it certainly wasn’t back in late 2013 when a tiny team was delivering 10 million unique users a month. If the Mirror weren’t able to make something sustainable out of that, then I don’t think the blame can lie with the talented staff who produced it.
(The names were pretty fucking stupid though.)
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