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Andrew Adamson: Tindle proves there is still life in the local newspaper industry

Tindle Newspapers has continued to launch new titles at a time when many newspaper companies are cutting back.

In the latest extract from the new edition of What Do We Mean By Local?, Tenby Observer manager Andrew Adamson, left, highlights what he believes are the factors behind the company’s success.


Since the beginning of the post-2008 recession, the local newspaper industry has suffered as local media search for ways to ensure future sustainability. Pressures on revenues from other forms of media, the recession and falling circulation revenues have all contributed to these difficult times, as is now well documented. With the guidance from Sir Ray and the Tindle Newspapers management team, we have all looked for opportunities where traditional revenues, such as national advertising campaigns, estate agent or motor dealer revenue can be replaced.

Somewhat against the grain, Sir Ray’s approach has been to look at where there may be an opportunity to increase the relevance for local communities, often by the launch of a new title to offer a more relevant local media. With my peers, we have all been looking at our areas of circulation and trying to identify where we may grow revenues. On 1 July 2011, the Tenby Observer Group, part of Tindle Newspapers, had its chance to launch a new title, the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Observer. Together with the Tenby Observer and Narberth and Whitland Observer, they form the Tenby Observer Group, covering South Pembrokeshire. It closely followed the launch of the fortnightly paid-for Chingford Times across the other side of the country.

Throughout their history, the towns of Tenby, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock have shared interests, and throughout the Tenby Observer’s history it has covered news relevant to both areas. Over the years the masthead and title have reflected this.

1860 – Tenby and Pembroke Dock Observer;
1867 – Tenby Observer and Pembrokeshire Chronicle;
1949 – Tenby Observer and District Reporter;
1970s – editions included the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Weekly News.

Towards the end of the 1970s the newspaper was called the Tenby and West Wales Weekly Observer, and was in trouble. In January 1978, the Daily Telegraph carried news of the newspaper’s difficulties and following this article Sir Ray Tindle took ownership in March 1978, reverting it back to its original name, the Tenby Observer.

Sir Ray’s philosophy is simple for local newspapers: local people, local names, local events, local places. He wanted nothing to happen in Tenby that was not in the Observer. This is the basic format for all of our titles, and one that we in the group all follow. I have often exaggerated that his ideal would be a paper for every street in the town, with every person living in that street in the paper, every week. In an interview with Hilary Gavin for journalism.co.uk, Sir Ray said: ‘The average person isn’t interested in the wider area, but they are very interested in their immediate locality. If you had a paper for every street, it would sell. You couldn’t do that, but you could do it for every town.’

Why We Set It Up?

Over recent years we aimed to include as much content, including as much community generated content as possible. While our main area is Tenby, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock are still areas relevant to our readership. As the Observer was sold in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock, we found the community there would voluntarily submit their news to us as they found it was more than likely to be published. Furthermore, local businesses had no cost-effective platform for them to advertise.

We also found that as the volume of submitted news increased, so too did the affection and popularity of the Tenby Observer in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock. This gave us the confidence and the opportunity to consider the case for a Pembroke and Pembroke Dock-‘only’ newspaper, the aim of which was to carry all the local community-based news which was not being published by the larger county titles. Add this to the potential support from local traders wishing to reach their local community and we were confident we could deliver and match the demand from all quarters for a Pembroke and Pembroke Dock-only local newspaper.

How it has Worked?

With the Tenby Observer already popular in Pembroke, our main aim has been to increase the relevance for the communities with the new Pembroke and Pembroke Dock title. Along with the title name, it was vital to include as much editorial content as possible. We contacted clubs and societies, sports teams, charities and gave out sheets with contact information to all town councillors to ask that they contact us if they had any story or news report from the community or aforementioned groups that they wished to see in print. Two groups, in particular, have supplied regular features/photos that have proved to be very popular: the Pembroke and Monkton Local History Society with photos from days gone by, and a local Pastor, Rob James, with his thought of the week.

All papers in the Tenby Observer series have common sections, but we aimed to make the early pages of the paper as specific to Pembroke and Pembroke Dock as possible. We wanted the communities to perceive this as their paper, and use it as the first port of call for their content. As well as the editorial content, we felt it was vital to secure the support for the new title from the small local businesses. After all, advertising revenue will help increase the resources to grow the paper, and give us the ability to carry more content. We tried hard to make sure that all local businesses knew about the new paper; that they had a new, truly local media in which they could advertise to local people. Many business owners are also active members of their communities, so it doubled as an excellent opportunity to ask them to send us any news they could.

Has it Worked?

In the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock area, the new title has approximately doubled our circulation and penetration within those areas, and is still increasing. Before the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Observer launch, our area coverage of Pembroke was approximately 20 per cent; with the increased sales the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Observer have given us, that has increased to an estimated 40 per cent. This increased coverage has also improved awareness about the paper and the service it offers; it has helped make sure that the news content has not dropped over time. The reporters have ensured they have stayed in contact, and the communities themselves have continued to send us their news. As we have made every effort to include everything we can, the clubs and societies have indulged us; the content coming from the communities shows that they value this new local title as their own. We have ensured we continue to keep it local, relevant and personal to the whole communities of Pembroke and Pembroke Dock.

Lessons to Others

The Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Observer is succeeding partially because we were able to establish it without incurring large costs. It’s an area where we have found we were able to provide a new, or greatly improved, service for local readers which, in turn, has given small local businesses an extremely cost-effective way of promoting directly to their customers. For us, it has provided a constant revenue stream to support and grow this new title. Pressure on newspapers to steady falling circulations has not helped editorial teams to produce the big story that helps boost sales, but at the local level it is as important to keep the news relevant to the local readers.

Reader-generated content has been crucial to the success of the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Observer. We do rely on the community to submit their news, but for our part we try our best to make sure it always sees print. This certainly contributes to the perceived ‘community ownership’; it gives locals a vested interest in the paper, and increases the affection for it. The best salespeople in the world are the next door neighbours: who better to sing the new title’s praises?

Other Tindle Newspaper Launches

Including our launch in 2011, Tindle newspapers have launched:

•    titles serving Enfield and Barnet, March 2010: East Barnet Advertiser, Winchmore Hill Herald, Edmonton Herald;
•    three titles serving North London, September 2010: Barnet and Potters Bar Press, Hendon and Finchley Press, Edgware and Mill Hill Press;
•    two titles in the Forest of Dean, October 2010: Newent Forester, Cinderford Forester;
•    Chingford Times – fortnightly paper, launched in July 2011;
•    Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Observer – launched in July 2011;
•    Chepstow Review – launched in November 2011;
•    Seven titles serving South London: Streatham and South London Press, Brixton and South London Press, Wimbledon and South London Press, Wandsworth and South London Press, Dulwich and South London Press, Deptford and New Cross and South London Press, Forest Hill and Sydenham and South London Press;
•    Gloucester Review – launched in January 2013;
•    Crediton Courier – changed from fortnightly to weekly, stabilising circulation, and increasing revenue;
•    Greenwich Town Mercury – launched in July 2013;
•    Charlton Mercury – launched in July 2013.

Should you read this, Sir Ray, I apologise if I’ve missed any!

The Future

‘Newspapers to lose £400 million in advertising revenue over next two years’ was a Press Gazette headline on 19 June 2013. Indeed, it is still widely believed there is no future for local newspapers. However, as well as the Tindle Newspaper launches there have been many by the other groups as they review how to best serve their readerships. Local people will always care about their locality, which means there will always be a market to be served.

The pressure on the industry from the recession and other forms of competition continue and are still cause for concern, but there is plenty of positive news. As well as newspaper launches, there have been some local news websites set up enjoying success such as Ross Hawkes’ Litchfield Live or CarrbridgeNews (an award-winning website started by three young locals in a small village in Scotland where I was born). All this proves that whatever the medium, local or hyperlocal news is valued by readers. We should always try to remember that.

Note on the author

Andrew Adamson is General Manager of the Tenby Observer Group, including the Tenby Observer, Narberth and Whitland Observer and Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Observer.

  • WHAT DO WE MEAN BY LOCAL? THE RISE, FALL AND RISE AGAIN OF LOCAL JOURNALISM. EDITED BY JOHN MAIR,RICHARD LANCE KEEBLE WITH NEIL FOWLER.  PUBLISHED BY ABRAMIS BURY ST EDMUNDS SEPTEMBER IST 2013 ISBN 978-1-84549-593-0 PRICE £19.95 WITH A SPECIAL OFFER TO YOUR READERS OF £15.00 from richard@arimapublishing.co.uk

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  • August 20, 2013 at 11:11 am
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    Tindle’s newspapers are only profitable because he dumps them on existing news rooms and doesn’t provide any new staff or resources to staff them. Their profitability relies on placing extra burden on already over-worked reporters.

    The moment you do so much as hire a single dedicated reporter to man any of these papers they cease to be profitable. The maths involved in declaring them ‘successful’ is deeply misleading.

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