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Editors urge tech giants to give more backing to ‘tiny upstarts’

Joshi HerrmannTechnology giants are being urged to back “tiny upstarts” in the regional news sector after bigger publishers were given help to fund a series of new projects.

Last month Reach plc announced a major expansion of its digital newsletter portfolio, including the creation of 12 new jobs, with support from Google’s Digital News Initiative.

But the move has angered hyperlocal editors in Manchester and Liverpool which are already in competition with Reach’s flagship news brands and view the newsletter initiative as an attempt to “wipe them off the map.”

Joshi Herrmann, editor of the Manchester Mill, and Mollie Simpson, of its Liverpool-based sister title The Post, have both criticised the use of Google cash to fund the project, with Joshi urging tech giants to help encourage a “healthier sector” by backing independent titles.

New newsletters to be launched by Reach under the initiative include The Mancunian Way – a weekday email looking in-depth at issues affecting Manchester – and the Liverpool Daily Post, a daily email reviving the name of its defunct morning daily newspaper which also inspired The Post’s name when it was launched last year.

Joshi and Mollie spoke out after two editors last month accused Google of shunning independent local news titles in a separate project that has seen the technology giant pay publishers for their content.

HFTP reported how Phil Creighton, of Wokingham Today, and the Bedford Independent’s Paul Hutchinson both hit out at Google, claiming its Google News Showcase project is “ignoring” the UK’s independent local news sector.

It led to calls from the Independent Community News Network, the trade body for independent local news titles, for the tech giant to open a dialogue with its members over future inclusion in the programme.

Joshi, pictured above, told HTFP: “Most of our towns and cities have a local newspaper monopoly now, and most of those newspapers are owned by one of the big companies that dominate local news.

“If we want a healthier sector, we need new models and new companies to come up to challenge those monopolies, and I hope anyone funding initiatives in this sector can support the tiny upstarts rather than the established players.”

In a strongly-worded editorial about the partnership between Reach and Google, Joshi wrote: “Apparently Reach has received funding from a programme called the Google News Initiative to create a series of newsletters that mimic some of the formatting and structure of our own.

“It seems to mean that Reach has identified that thousands of readers are turning to new sources of local information like the Mill and it wants to neutralise that threat.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, some people have said to me — and certainly it’s good to know we are doing something that a big company wants to copy.

“But given the enormous mismatch in resources, it’s also a threat.”

MollieMollie, left,  added in a separate editorial: “We chose the name The Post because we felt it was appropriate for our mission: returning to the kind of reporting that people used to get from the Daily Post, which was for many years the quality local paper on Merseyside.

“Now Reach has chosen it for their new Echo newsletter in order to wipe us off the map, so that they can resume their monopoly.”

In response, a Reach spokeswoman said: “We’re so excited to keep building on our work to find new ways to engage our readers.

“Over the past two years, we have built up a stable of over 400 newsletters, with regional brands such as The Northern Agenda and Analysing Anfield, or hyperlocal newsletters, for example those serving Arnold and Skegness, already attracting a loyal readership.

“These investments have reliably increased the number of people reading local news around the country and we are encouraged by what this progress means for the long-term health of the local news industry, something we can all agree is vital.

“This is a rich space for innovation and we expect and welcome healthy competition.”

Google has previously maintained that more than 90pc of the publications that are part of its News Showcase represent local or community news.

Archant, DC Thomson, Iliffe Media, the Midland News Association, Newsquest and JPIMedia are among other publishers to receive cash from Google as a result of their inclusion in the News Showcase scheme.