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Dyson at Large: The slowly expanding world of hyperlocals (part two)

“Hyperlocals: they’re all very well, but how can an occasional publication limited to 30-odd pages make a real difference to the local community?”

Those were the words of one media watcher during our mini-debate after he’d read my last hyperlocal blog on the Peckham Peculiar, which publishes once every two months.

And so I was heartened when a copy of the Times of Tunbridge Wells thumped down on my doormat, posted by a news desk who are rightly proud of what they’re doing every week.

The Times was launched by the independent One Media group in March last year, and its first edition stretched to 72 pages.

A year later, on 16 March 2016, the pagination was an even-healthier 84 pages, and the venture seems to have been successful enough for a sister Times of Tonbridge paper to have launched this spring.

It’s far too early to judge the newest paper, but with 12 months under its belt the original Tunbridge Wells title is very much looking the part.

The ‘cash for cancelled trains’ splash was a decent tale explained in broadsheet style over 27 paragraphs, turning to a column on page three.

It was encouraging to see so many words on the front of a free weekly, and impressive that this still left space for two strip adverts, four write-off pictures and a quality, eye-catching masthead that stands out in its white space.

‘All the news that matters’ is the strapline at the top of page one, and so here’s a peek at some of the best leads on the inside pages of the Kent weekly.

  • ‘Police chief accused of ‘miserable record’ as the election fight begins’: this reported on the controversial tenure of Kent’s crime commissioner Ann Barnes, who leaves her post today after last week’s elections.
  • ‘Holocaust survivor’s story is still relevant today’: this covered a local talk given by 95-year-old Feddie Knoller, sent to Auschwitz as a teenager, where he watched both his parents perish.
  • ‘Contract means doctors may quit and patients will suffer’: this was a detailed report on how local junior doctors took part in the national protest, with a useful ‘Strike explained’ panel.
  • ‘Apprentice learning curve is a thriving alternative to degree’: this spread was a well-structured package of reports on the growing numbers of apprentices in Tunbridge Wells.

The Times’ story count was at first glance healthy enough for a free hyperlocal weekly, with around 110 reads on 31 editorial pages – 14 covering news, four shopping, ten leisure and three motoring.

That said, there was perhaps too much reliance on national and world affairs which filled four of the 14 news pages.

And there were no sports pages, which was surely a missed opportunity: Tunbridge Wells FC were finalists in the FA Vase in 2013, and its cricket club hosts several of Kent County’s home matches, let alone all the town’s junior sport.

Those glitches aside, editorial director Richard Moore and his small team are starting to make the Times look and read like an established newspaper, helped by the recent input from ‘editor at large’ Frank Baldwin, former managing editor of the Kent & Sussex Courier Group.

Commercially, it was heartening to count more than 50 display adverts in the main section, plus the chunky 40-page ‘Move with the Times’ property pull-out that was 90pc advertising.

With a weekly print run of 30,000 – plus the initial 7,000 copies of the Tonbridge sister paper – the Times series feels like it’s quickly outgrowing its ‘hyperlocal’ title.

▪ Email steve.dysonmedia@gmail.com if you’ve got a hyperlocal paper you’d like him to consider reviewing.

10 comments

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  • May 11, 2016 at 11:00 am
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    the web site for TIMES OF TUNBRIDGE WELLS
    doesn’t seems to be working. Is it still gloing?

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  • May 11, 2016 at 11:07 am
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    “quickly outgrowing its hyperlocal title”.
    That’s the problem. It must not become just another greedy semi-regional paper and lose its local focus as so many NQ, JP, and TM papers have done.
    Small free truly local papers are really the future, shuddering though the thought is if you work for a paid-for.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 11:16 am
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    Hyperlocals are to be warmly welcomed by everybody, but what happens when a downturn in trade comes along?
    Another major problem is that they usually end up selling out to a monopoly. Either the founder wants to retire to the Mediterranean or slogging away each week gets to be too much and they make an “approach”.
    The Tunbridge Wells Times certainly looks an excellent read, I just hope it can end up as a paid- for.
    Quite a few weeklies I knew back in the halcyon days of paid-fors were stuffed with adverts. But that didn’t mean, of course, that the title’s tills were overflowing with cash. Advertisers don’t like to pay on time, especially garages and estate agents. Unpaid bills went back 10 months in some cases.
    The problem of newspapers is that they fall victim to economy of scale. The more you standardise them the more costs of production fall. This is great for accountants, but bad for journalists and readers who know that the essence of a good newspaper is its iindividuality.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 12:01 pm
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    This certainly looks like a credible weekly with a nice, simple clean cover that puts many of the larger groups covers to shame. Good to see its not sold its soul to the ad teams by limiting commercial space to one prime spot on the page too.
    It’s also encouraging to hear the paper is well supported by local advertisers as they will ultimately determine whether the paper continues which i am sure it will with the level of support it appears to be getting from the local business community. sustainable revenue is paramount to any small business success.
    Going back to basics and providing the level of local news coverage that the so called big boys have either chosen to ignore or aren’t sufficiently manned up to provide is proving the key, it’s news and snippets only available in papers such as the times and like the Your Local paper in west Norfolk is thriving in an area the rest haveboukledbout of PR lost markets in,
    Good luck to all involved in this one and to all independents delivering a genuine nees and commercial service in the shadow of bigger need groups

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  • May 11, 2016 at 1:16 pm
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    Another thought: How many provincial towns can support a hyperlocal from an advertising point of view? People are shopping online with local shops closing down all over the place. There just isn’t the money in the high street like there used to be for paid-for papers.
    Affluent communities where residents are concerned about their surroundings (and house prices) might be more willing to support a free. Most start-ups seem to be in “nice places”, but it would be a very hard slog in one of the big city areas. Incidentally, isn’t Tonbridge Wells supposed to be Royal Tonbridge Wells, or is that somewhere else? Readers will want the “Royal” bit in the title knowing how snobby some people can be in places like that.
    Final thought: Hypers will need some form of direct government aid if they are to be longstanding and do their bit for democracy by covering councils, inquiries, courts etc. They will need the staff.
    Tough, but you can’t get away from that fact.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 2:31 pm
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    Yes, there are lots of challenges but let’s celebrate the fact that some people out there are showing that printed local news can still be viable in 2016.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 5:20 pm
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    Sunset. Don’t mix up “thinks it’s posh” (Royal) Tunbridge Wells with noisy neighbour Tonbridge. Do you want civil war?

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  • May 11, 2016 at 6:52 pm
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    Delighted it is going well, but it is not what most people would call a hyperlocal. Surely the paper is serving precisely the size of town dozens if not hundreds of titles used to before the mergers of the 1980s.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 8:48 pm
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    “Final thought: Hypers will need some form of direct government aid if they are to be longstanding”

    How many tens, or hundreds of millions of pounds has traditional print had via statutory notices over the years? State aid in all but name.

    Hyperlocals are outgrowing the name in some areas and are bigger than the ‘proper’ titles.

    At some point the advertisers will find that out… and then er….!

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