XCity Award Shortlist: Beth Ashton

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Beth Ashton, head of audience at Manchester Evening News, has been shortlisted for the XCity Award for her extensive overhaul of the publication’s social and online strategy.

Ashton graduated from the Interactive Journalism MA at City in 2013. After leaving, she worked at Sky before joining the Manchester Evening News in 2014 as social media editor.

Now head of audience, Ashton is responsible for the success of the newspaper’s digital strategy, which has seen its social media audience grow to over seven million and placed the publication in the top 25 most engaged Facebook publishers globally. Telling stories in a compelling way, Ashton says, is a key element of this success.

“We continuously look to tell stories in the best way we can, at the right time, and we use everything at our disposal to get it in front of people.

“I look at all the ways people access our journalism and how they consume our stories and respond to different elements to try to work out how we can improve our journalism and serve our audiences on a daily basis. We also continuously challenge our own strategy and look to develop and change as digital journalism changes.”

Effectively responding to such changes, including the rise of distribution platforms like Facebook Instant Articles and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages, has been crucial to creating a strategy that is robust and innovative. Over the last year, Ashton has focused on using tools such as video to create content that is entertaining, useful and keeps up with digital journalism trends.

She explains: “Over the last 12 months, we’ve had to be adaptable to change more than ever and finding strong solutions to sustain regional news is something that I work hard to do and am proud of. How we move forward and grow and change while keeping our readers at the heart of everything we do is important. Most recently, I organised a fact-finding trip to the US to learn from key players in video as we continue to change and move regional news into different spheres.”

Embracing change while becoming an expert in her field is a mindset, Ashton says, she learnt from her time at City.

“The mentality of being open to change is something that was really instilled in me at City, particularly while learning about social and communities under Adam Tinworth.

“I also remember Simon Rogers, who was then at The Guardian, telling us one day to find something no one else could do or wanted to do and become an expert. I’ve never forgotten that.”

Ashton is one of five  people to be shortlisted for the XCity Award and £500 prize, which recognises an outstanding contribution to journalism in the past year by a City alumnus.

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