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.
“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.
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.”
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.