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War of words as newcomer takes on century-old title

The long-established Kent Messenger has hit back at accusations of complacency and promised a “robust” response to the challenge of a newcomer in its heartland.

Maidstone News, a paid-for tabloid, was launched by Kent Regional Newspapers on June 16 in direct competition to the Messenger – established in the town for more than 100 years and shortlisted as BT Weekly Newspaper of the Year.

The News is published on the same day, Friday, and at 30p is 10p cheaper than its rival.

Its second issue boasts 112 pages, including eight pages of sport and a 32-page full-colour property guide.

KRN publishing director Paul Stannard said response to the launch had been “phenomenal”, with an initial print run of 30,000.

Newsagents had “welcomed it with open arms” and the response of Asda – which took 2,000 copies in the first week and wanted more in the second – was typical of supermarkets.

Property ads were booked for a year, with 80% of estate agents in Maidstone signed up. Several major motor dealers in the town were backing the new title, and the first edition carried seven pages of job ads.

Editorially, the paper aimed to be “more fun” than the “staid and conservative” Messenger, Mr Stannard said. The first issue splash, about a racehorse owner involved in a planning wrangle over grazing, was headed: “Move that horse – or eat it!”

The News operates from established KRN offices in Maidstone but is looking for new high street premises. It has a staff of 18, headed by editor Murray Evans, and is printed on the Sunday Times press at News International.

Mr Stannard said the title had been registered with the British Library for four years but the delay in launching had worked to KRN’s advantage because in the meantime, the Messenger had “become more complacent”.

He added: “People have got more and more disenchanted with the Kent Messenger.”

But Kent Messenger Group managing director David Lewis said the facts told a different story.

“You don’t grow in circulation terms and readership, as we have, by being complacent,” he said.

“Maidstone is one of our strongest areas in terms of household penetration and the Kent Messenger itself has grown to be the second-largest weekly in the UK. We are confident that the competition from the new publication will only spur us to go on and produce even better newspapers.

“We are expecting our ABC figure for the Kent Messenger for the first half of this year to be around 50,000 copies, which would be about 3% growth on the previous year and an increase of 25% over the last five-year period.

“Clearly, we are producing what we believe to be a well-respected and well-received newspaper, both by readers and by local businesses and, clearly, we are going to concentrate on our strengths

“We are a real community newspaper in that we carry extensive coverage of community activities, and as a company we invest in editorial, I would say to a degree on a par with anybody else in the country. We have a total editorial team of 160, of which some 25 are concentrated on the Kent Messenger and Maidstone in particular.”

He added: “It’s all about quality at the end of the day – it’s not about stacking it high and selling it cheap.”

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