If you’re feeling a little down about the state of the newspaper industry, take a mini-break to the Cleethorpes promenade in North East Lincolnshire this summer.
Because this is where, back in March 2008, former Northcliffe execs Nigel Lowther and Mark Webb launched their own weekly newspaper.
Within months, Britain was tipped into the worst recession since the 1930s, and there can’t have been many who’d have put money on the new title surviving.
Yet earlier this year, the Cleethorpes Chronicle notched up its 100th edition, having built a part-paid, part-free weekly circulation of more than 11,000 copies.
So what is the secret behind the success of this modern day new launch?
Lowther, the paper’s editor and the former deputy of the nearby daily Grimsby Telegraph, puts much of it down to “names and faces every week”, along with “good, old-fashioned community journalism” that is produced by an “experienced team [who] live in the area”.
And this local neighbourhood approach was certainly in abundance in the copy I picked up last week, with the dateline ‘Thursday May 13 to Wednesday May 19′.
The splash was a good old stink kicked up by a local councillor over public eyesores such as the pile of rubble that greets visitors arriving at the resort’s train station.
Alongside it was a picture write-off about the new vice-chairman at Grimsby Town FC, cross-referencing to detailed club news in sport.
The left-hand leg had three more write-offs: one on the future of Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell, pointing out full local election coverage inside; a second on a new promise to redevelop Cleethorpes Pier; and another boosting a look back at the local Mayor’s year in office.
A note of caution here… when cross-referencing write-offs, it’s crucial to fuss over detail: the Grimsby Town tale pointed to pages 39 and 40, but there was nothing on page 39; the election coverage said “see pages 3, 4, 6 and 7″, but there was nothing on page four and plenty on page two.
Nit-picking aside, there was great local coverage throughout. On top of the rubble row, Grimsby Town’s new vice-chairman, election detail, pier news and Mayor feature, this included:
On the downside, there were only 80-odd true stories on 22 editorial pages in a 40-page book (that’s news, comment, features and sport altogether).
But the fact that each of these reads was full of useful and interesting facts, figures, dates, names or opinions on the surrounding urban areas appears to have made the Chronicle a must-read for those living in or near and caring about Cleethorpes.
And as the only locally owned newspaper in North East Lincolnshire, it’s obviously a pain in the side for local Northcliffe bosses in nearby Grimsby, who only last month revamped their weekly offerings to compete with the impostor.
Because the Cleethorpes Chronicle is so new, and therefore little factual information about its set up is known, I made the exception of contacting editor Lowther to ask a few questions. (It should be noted that this was only after getting hold of the paper I was reviewing).
Lowther told me the Chronicle is run as “a lean, mean operation”. He employs the equivalent of 3.5 full-time editorial staff, made up from one full-time reporter and six other “very experienced” staff working part-time.
Distribution is up to now independently audited at 11,823 on a part-sold, part-complimentary basis, and Jicreg has recorded a readership of 27,461 a week.
Anyone interested in guessing at the figures of running such an operation can take a peek at the Chronicle’s media pack, freely available on the web.
Surely there’s the beginning of a template for more local, independent launches here?
Talking of the web, there’s one more little secret that it wasn’t hard to discover about the community allure of the Chronicle: not a jot of it is reproduced online.
When I asked Lowther about this, he confirmed it was “just a printed publication”, although they were considering a “website in the future”.
I pressed him on this point: given the success of the printed product in notching up two years trading and readership in the worst recession since the 1930s, did he think this might be harmed by a website?
“Yes, we believe it would have been harmed if we had just given away the hard-gained content free. We are determined this will not happen.
“When we do go online, we will charge… It represents a good opportunity and a sensible way forward.”
Given we’ve been at the seaside this week, I’ll suggest a line from Punch and Judy: ‘That’s the way to do it!’ Discuss…
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Reynard (26/05/2010 10:47:36)
Independent local publishers with low costs and a roots in the community. back to the future?
Woolly Bob (26/05/2010 11:36:35)
Faces and names sell papers. Always have, always will, However, is the Cleethorpes Chronicle really an “impostor”? Interloper, perhaps…
AJinexile (26/05/2010 13:33:43)
Refreshing. Wish them luck. A shrewd move not to go online. I agree with Ryenard — this could be back to the future.
localhack (26/05/2010 13:36:46)
Steve, why does the Cleethorpe Chronicle meet your approval for giving its content away in print, but not online?
dreading_what’s_next (26/05/2010 14:35:09)
Is this the future of local journalism? Skeleton editorial staff simply filling spaces between the adverts?
Steve Dyson (26/05/2010 16:36:43)
Thanks for the question, localhack. It’s not that the Chronicle has necessarily got my ‘approval’, but that I’ve noted its strategy has been successful. How do you measure ‘success’ you might ask… Well, as said really, it launched just before the huge recession and survived; it’s grown 11,800-odd takers of its paper (some paid-for) and has 27,000-odd readers. As a printed newspaper starting from scratch, and given the downturn it did it during, it’s pretty impressive. Would it have recouped the same revenues enabling its business, staffing and profits as a local website? I don’t think so, and nor does the launch editor. It’s well worthy of discussion though.
Cookie Monster (26/05/2010 16:55:51)
It would be interesting to hear how the Grimsby Telegraph compares if they cover the same patch. A possible project Mr Dyson
Realitycheck (27/05/2010 16:28:49)
New businesses do need a few years to turn around, but if such a business was still making a loss, would you consider it to be a “success”, Steve?
dozy (28/05/2010 11:13:32)
Reality check, depends on how you define success a local business that remains alive despite downturns and without making hundreds redundant? Maybe the directors have more think success is showing comittment to the staff and the product than to shareholders… interesting concept don’t you think?
dozy (28/05/2010 11:16:43)
Apologies, here is the edited version.
Reality Check, It depends on how you define success.A local business that remains alive despite downturns and without making hundreds redundant? Maybe the directors think success is showing comittment to the staff and the product rather than to shareholders… interesting concept don’t you think?