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Ex-colleagues launch own paper to fight ‘erosion’ of local journalism

Two former regional press colleagues who shared concerns about “the slow erosion of valued local journalism” have launched their own local newspaper.

Simon Hacker and Matthew Bigwood founded the Wotton Times to serve the Gloucestershire town of Wotton-under-Edge, despite being told they would be “mad” to do so.

The duo worked together in the 1980s and 1990s at the family-owned Bailey Newspaper Group in nearby Dursley, before Simon moved to freelance for national papers and magazines, while Matt built a career as a professional photographer and videographer.

Two issues of the monthly Times, which has a print run of 4,000 and has a cover price of 50p, have now been published, with Simon serving as editor and Matthew as creative director.

Wotton Times

Explaining the decision to reunite for the project, Simon told HTFP: “We got sick of hearing ourselves lamenting career and industry inertia.”

He added: “Neither of us stopped twitching about the slow erosion of valued local journalism. We formed a publishing company in March.

“Weatherbeaten colleagues told me we were mad, that local journalism is dead because no one wants it any more, that there’s no money, blah, blah, blah. I’m annoyed I didn’t challenge this nonsense before.

“Truth is, local news is as much part of the resurgence of local culture as local fruit and veg. In fact, we sell stacks of our paper in a local produce shop. They devour it.”

Simon said the decision to be a paid-for title had made prohibitive print costs “less scary than imagined”, although most revenue comes from advertising.

Pagination increased by four from issue one to two, and plans are afoot to open a sister title, with possible staff expansion also on the cards too.

Simon said: “Perhaps what makes it work so well is that fact that although the financial pointers are good, we do this because we live and breathe local. I had a complaint from the local district council this morning about a lead story. That’s just the feedback we like.”

Offering advice for others thinking of launching their own newspaper, he added: “First of all, have faith. Build a local paper bursting with real news, not cut-and-paste handouts and releases, and they will come. And don’t be afraid to engage with new readers who might never have had a rapport with a traditional local paper.

“Don’t dumb-down stories with cliched journaleese, insist on names for people in pictures and, as well as delivering engaging and juicy stories, take the effort, as Matt does, to get out of the office and actually be there, for events no matter how small.

“Design and plan pages from scratch every month, don’t let the template tail wag the content dog.”

13 comments

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  • June 18, 2018 at 8:44 am
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    Congratulations and good luck. People still like a local paper which is local and produced by local people with local news about local people ….. that is the key.

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  • June 18, 2018 at 9:24 am
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    Local print journalism and news is very much alive, just not at the large old dinosaur publishing groups.
    All across the uk respected journalists and commercial people are capitalising on the huge gap left by their former employers and opening what have become successful, popular and profitable community newspapers full of local news and advertising which people are supporting.
    Where I am there are good local publishers who’ve taken the market in certain areas or categories however majority of these papers are free pick ups to give the sales people a bigger audience to pitch to local businesses who in turn are turning their backs on the established papers due to lack of readers and irrelevant ,old content so putting a cover price on was a courageous move but one which is undetstandable in cost outlay terms.
    If they can make it profitable via sustainable advertising alone they’ll go from strength to strength and be able to reach even more people.
    A good initiative and all good wishes to the team at Wooton for their continued success in real community news publishing.

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  • June 18, 2018 at 9:26 am
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    Good luck, lads, but the front must be more exciting than this if the project is to succeed – the lead is way too chunky and crying out for a pic. Still, you’re not Reach or JP so I hope it pays off for you.

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  • June 18, 2018 at 9:34 am
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    Well done. At least they are trying to be positive which is more than can be said for the out-of-touch bosses of big concerns.

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  • June 18, 2018 at 12:06 pm
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    Good luck. I returned to my home town of Boston at the weekend and was shocked to see that the Boston Standard where I once worked is now a vaping shop – apparently their office is on a mini business park way out of town and the ‘editor’ is in charge of numerous titles. Similarly, the Boston Target, where I also worked, is also pretty cut off from the public. No bill posters in the town either. In fact no sign of the news. A sad state of affairs.

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  • June 18, 2018 at 12:30 pm
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    Very best wishes to you. I admire your commitment to this. People do want local news but there is a danger they will forget that receiving local news is possible. Good luck.

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  • June 18, 2018 at 1:15 pm
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    Yet another hyperlocal initiative which deserves praise. Good luck!

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  • June 19, 2018 at 5:17 am
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    well done, but front design does need to be a bit snappier. best of luck .local reporters, local news. Who would have thought it? Are you watching JP?

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  • June 19, 2018 at 5:22 am
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    looking again, writing style needs sharpening up and tightening up. some sentences over-written. “graft” needs careful use. It has other implications nowadays, sadly. But a decent start.

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  • June 19, 2018 at 8:54 am
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    Good luck, watch the costs and get those ads rolling in. ?

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  • June 19, 2018 at 9:58 am
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    Hard to believe people want to use this space to be critical of the design and content! Give the guys some space. Well done!

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  • June 19, 2018 at 2:17 pm
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    Lydia – all the criticism here is justified, I think, and offered constructively in the hope that the venture will go from strength to strength in the face of the big corporates’ shamelessly plummeting standards.

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