Culture

Newspapers

Talk of the town— Global

Preface

Is there a future for local newspapers? We meet the believers from a British octogenarian maverick to a hi-tech Czech publisher and witness triumphs but also a spectacular failure as it happens.

Edmonton Herald, Grocott's Mail, Gulf News, Nase Adresa Ustil, West Highland Free Press

Gulf News

Typical stories: ‘Battle looms over Esplanade’; ‘Local artist to exhibit in UK’

Advertising: Full page advert costs NZ$345 (€190)

Recent classified ads: ‘Lost – did you accidentally take home black Lycra Visage/Insight hoodie with ruched sleeve detail?’

How many staff: 14 including three reporters

Brief history: Founded by journalists in 1973 Ownership Pendragon Press, a publisher owned by editor Liz Waters

Circulation: 3,129

West Highland Free Press

Typical story: ‘New classrooms for two Skye primary schools’

Cost of advertising: Full page: £1,040 (€1,270)

Example of classified ad: ‘Lambs wanted! We will be on Skye on 6 September. All types of lambs and ewes taken. Payment when seen’

Staff: 15 full-time employees

Brief history: Founded in 1972 as a left-wing paper

Ownership: Staff-owned

Circulation: 8,642

Small is beautiful

##UK

In March, something unusual occurred in a nondescript white office block on London’s northern outskirts. Four local newspapers launched. The local journalists’ union rep said Britain’s capital hadn’t seen anything like it for 30 years.

The man behind the four hyper-local papers, which included the Edmonton Herald and East Barnet Advertiser, is Sir Ray Tindle (right), an octogenarian World War II veteran who bought his first paper with his demob cheque and now owns 200 of them. Since the media downturn, his firm has launched 12 weekly newspapers and three years ago it rescued 27 papers from Trinity Mirror, which faced closure. His company is private, with no debts, bank loans, overdrafts or investors. Tindle realised that some of his local papers had become too big for their communities. One was losing £192,000 a year and redundancies loomed. Realising that firms that only sold to their locality had been priced out of the market by papers that stretched across several suburbs, he created a quartet of ultra-local papers, which are now making about £1,000 a week, helping to offset losses.

They are the newest papers in a stable with a long pedigree. “Many of mine are over 150 years of age and scores of them are over 100,” Tindle says. “They have lived through two World Wars and at least six recessions and they will live forever. We believe there’s room for more.”

Last page turned

##Czech Republic

For Usti, a city two hours north of Prague with a population of 100,000, the “news café” was such a nice idea: cappuccino sales helping to fund local journalism, part of a pilot project by a firm that launched local papers across the country and housed their newsrooms in cafés.

Until 27 August, when things turned sour, Nase Adresa Usti was a brave experiment; a 32-page hyper-local weekly paper that cost 11kc (€0.44), contained no national or foreign news and had a circulation of about 6,000, plus a website hosting blogs and videos.

The idea was to put journalists in direct contact with the local community. The pilot phase of seven weekly papers and 25 websites was backed by the large financial services firm PPF, which was poised to rapidly expand the chain to 150 local weeklies, 550 websites and 89 cafés.

It promised so much but it was not able to deliver enough so satisfy its owner, which abruptly sold its media division to Czech entrepreneur Richard Benysek for an undisclosed sum after a change in strategy. Officially, the fate of the cafés hung in the balance as monocle went to press, but staff attached to them told us the project would close. “Today we are leaving smaller projects, focusing on larger stakes,” announced PPF chairman Evzhen Hart. “PPF Media Team has embarked on a new project with incredible energy.” If you’re locally owned, local works. Try to make sure you don’t get bought by a firm run on balance sheets alone.

Student access

Student success

South Africa

Founded in 1870 as a free advertising sheet, Grocott’s Mail serves the small South African town of Grahamstown, while acting as an incubator for journalism students. Bought by Rhodes University in 2003, the bulk of the newspaper’s staff of 30 are journalism students – from first year to postgraduate level. “The best thing any journalism school can offer is practical experience,” says news editor Abongile Mgaqelwa. Being in a live newsroom, she says, “gives them a picture of what their career will like”.

Mgaqelwa says the paper is satisfied with ad bookings (profits are used to fund student bursaries). With 2,031 copies hitting the newsstands twice weekly, Mgaqelwa attributes its success to comprehensive coverage of local issues. “Grocott’s is for the whole community. We strive to serve everyone – from the student and academic to the lady selling oranges on the side of the street,” she says.

Typical story: ‘Water quality has improved – you can drink it’
Cost of advertising: Page ad R6,751 (€725)
Staff: 30
Brief history: Founded in 1870
Ownership: Rhodes University
Circulation: 2,031 copies twice weekly

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