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Dyson at Large: The future is beautifully small and beautifully local

Edward Iliffe, who launched the Cambridge Independent from scratch.

Perhaps it’s too much sun or gin, but I can’t help feeling upbeat at the opinions of some of the small business owners who are increasingly leading today’s local media.

My optimism was nudged by the comments made by Sir Ray Tindle as he announced his semi-retirement and the appointment of his son Owen Tindle as the new chairman of Tindle Newspapers.

“Local papers will survive,” said Sir Ray. “Local news in depth is what people need. Names, faces and places. There is no doubt about it – sufficient demand is still there. Local detailed news is in a category of its own. It has survived many years. It will live forever.”

And yes, I know there are some HoldtheFrontPage readers who regularly criticise the alleged parsimony of this group, and others who sneer at what they say is its insignificance in newspaper publishing.

But they should note that the Tindle group now publishes well over 200 newspaper titles, has an audited weekly circulation of more than 1.4 million and a turnover above £50m.

This is not an insignificant business, and if an element of thriftiness is what it’s taken to build from the £300 demob money that Sir Ray began the group with at the end of the Second World War, then so be it.

The progress of Tindle Newspapers from such humble beginnings is what should give us all hope for some of the other businesses which have only just begun their locally-focused journeys as mini-media empires.

Businesses like the one run by Peter Masters, the chairman and co-owner of Truro City Football Club, who entered the newspaper world earlier this year when he took over the Liskeard-based Sunday Independent – saving 17 jobs in the process.

This new entrant in the newspaper publishing world has now rescued the ‘View From’ series of newspapers which serve towns in Dorset, Devon and Somerset, saving yet more jobs.

Again, it’s the comments behind the purchase that grabbed my interest, with Peter saying: “I believe in the future of print newspapers as the heart of their communities, where people can share their successes, their challenges, their events, their joys and criticisms.

“Nothing beats sitting down with a paper that covers your community or your sphere of interest and reading all the things you can’t find on the internet.”

This print-focused sentiment has been long espoused by Richard Coulter and Emma Cooper, former Bristol Post editorial and advertising executives, whose Voice network of 16 hyperlocal newspapers have sprouted up in and around Bristol since they launched the concept in 2011.

Back in 2012, Richard told me why he saw no worth in devaluing his newspaper by publishing content online first: “It’s a print model offering advertisers certain numbers through certain letterboxes in a niche market. I’m not sure digital can yet offer such good assurances. I’ve had just one advertiser request the website.”

And speaking at the launch of the latest Wells Voice title earlier this month, Emma encouraged other start-ups when she said: “We want to show hyperlocal news is sustainable as a business and we would be delighted to discuss other locations with journalists, salespeople or entrepreneurs anywhere in the UK.”

The future of local news comes in all shapes and sizes across the UK, another example being the re-emergence of Iliffe Media after the Local World debacle.

This saw owner Edward Iliffe launch the new Cambridge Independent from scratch, saving media jobs in the city while Trinity Mirror is having to cut them on the Cambridge News.

Edward has since become a serious player, using his Local World windfall to buy weekly 13 titles in East Anglia from Johnston Press, and rescuing 13 more in a ‘white knight’ deal with fellow independent publisher the KM Group.

Edward’s commitment to the sector is worth reading, and in an interview this spring he told me: “You need to invest in local journalism. The demand for local, well-edited content is there. And we can’t produce content without people.

“The social media agenda is quite helpful, because people are starting to see the internet as just a huge gossip. People quite like reading opinions when they come from people who are respected and trusted.

“That’s what a newspaper does, in print or on screen – it doesn’t matter. People respect well-researched, well-produced content. The internet hasn’t changed anything, it’s just changed the means of delivery.”

But perhaps the most important comment from these independent local media businesses should come from Tindle Newspapers, this time from the new chairman Owen Tindle.

Last week, he said: “We will have to continually re-appraise and re-align ourselves with the realities of the times and the reduced revenues that we are all experiencing, but we will go forward into the new era of local media, keeping things beautifully small and beautifully local.”

Owen’s reality check should be noted, but it’s his last seven words that drive my optimism: keeping things beautifully small and beautifully local.

The industry’s big giants will continue to contract as they fight the corporate battle of maximising profit margins, with blanket decisions taken far away from the communities they serve.

Meanwhile, the minnows only need to make a living, and as I type I’m raising my gin and tonic to the fact that more and more one-man (and woman) bands are popping up all over the place – some leading to larger networks. Cheers.

5 comments

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  • July 19, 2017 at 8:44 am
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    Small and independent is undoubtedly the way forward for community regional print publishing with many success stories being told in pockets across the uk. This has and will further hasten the decline of the once bigger groups who for too long have lumbered along carrying far too many unproductive staff , multi layers of manager,using out dated methods and old ways of thinking and choosing the cheap and not very cheerful content over quality route which has, Unsurprisingly seen copy sales crash and ad revenues hit record lows and continuing to fall further.
    They’ve constantly tried to jump aboard every passing bandwagon in an attempt to grab any revenue they can get hold of to offset losses and to keep a grip on what declining share of the market they have whereas the newly emerging independent publishers have gone back to basics by forcussing on quality and locality.
    Where I am in the east there is a whole array of top quality small publishers producing superb publications from weekly newspapers to localised glossy magazines and taking revenues and market share once deemed the divine right of the bigger groups.

    All credit to them and this business model of proper cost controls,high quality and relevant content,putting the end user first and niche target marketing is clearly the way to go, but then again many of us knew that years ago once the focus on quality went and the greed for revenue above all else took priority

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  • July 19, 2017 at 10:50 am
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    Good piece steve and on the money summary by From the Word
    This emergence of new lean well run independent local publishers who are truly serving a community, not just paying the lip service we are all bored with hearing from the larger groups content chiefs and editors,is finding a market with local people and thus attracting local business advertisers.
    These independent publishers are finding and reaching an audience while the once bigger players thrash around in the water trying to make ends meet, ends which are growing further apart on a daily basis as former readers and advertisers tire of poor and irrelevant content and go elsewhere.
    This is a sector i too feel will grow through the year as more journos and ad people,backed and funded by key local business people take up the baton of launching papers and publishing a good reliable hyper local news service, a service the old dinosaur publishers no longer provide as a result of complacency and years of mis management greed and cost cutting, knee jerk savings which only now are being seen for the ooor decisions they were

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  • July 19, 2017 at 12:27 pm
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    There still appears to be a head in the sands mentality by many regional press staffers,including ad reps, who appear afraid to make a move away from the bigger groups preferring instead to sit tight and hope with fingers crossed that the spotlight won’t fall their way and the inevitable axing will be on someone else other than themselves.
    Many I know are very proficient skilled people,disillusioned and going through the motions whilst desperate to get out but afraid of jumping into the big wide world yet where their prospects would be greater by joining the type of set up mentioned in Steve’s post.
    Today’s excellent piece should give them hope that publishing ‘as we once knew it’ is still alive and very much thriving, just not at the main publishers anymore.

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  • July 19, 2017 at 3:23 pm
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    local news? someone is off message.

    my local paid for JP papers’s website is full of national stuff and lots of things not local, in the case of the web probably a click baiting exercise in their desperation for more hits.
    A local free concentrates on local news and does OK.

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  • July 19, 2017 at 4:46 pm
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    It’s great to hear of these small local publishers doing so well in a climate of cut backs,free falling ad sales and cost cutting by the bigger fish,all of whom are encumbered by high fixed costs and with all the key people long gone, the rallying call for them is revenues from anywhere and at any cost,supplied content from the public at no cost and with genuine quality journalism considered of little importance and too high a price to pay so it’s good to hear of the smaller set ups doing so well.

    It’s ironic that in the chase to grab digital revenue steams ,which after many years and many varied attempts the bigger boys have spectacularly failed to do and show no sign of doing so anytime soon,they’ve sacrificed their core products; the daily and weekly papers,leaving the door wide open for new local publications to emerge and thrive.
    Good wishes to all those highly talented people across the uk making a good living by providing a beautifully small and beautifully simple,honest to goodness down to earth hyper local news service.

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