Print Is Not Dead
Fringe Event at National Union of Journalists Delegate Meeting, supported by Bristol Branch NUJ
A brief look at how independent hyperlocal and local publishers can thrive in print as well as online
1pm, Saturday, April 16
Room 5, Waterfront Suite
Southport Theatre & Convention Centre, Southport
NUJ DM runs from April 14-17
THERE is a quiet revolution happening in publishing. Don’t tell anyone, but it looks as if the “dead tree press” is far from moribund.
Three very different publishers who are making money and providing jobs for journalists will be present at the NUJ conference in Southport on April 16.
While the big names in regional news publishing continue to slash jobs and make conditions more difficult for journalists, these new ventures show how it’s possible to thrive.
Crucially, they all have an online presence, but most of their impact – and their advertising revenue – comes from print.
The Voice series in Bristol comprises 10 hyperlocal monthly news magazines with an 11th expected to be announced soon. More than 90,000 copies are printed each month by five independent publishers.
The publishers each own their local titles, employing around 10 people full and part-time. They save money by dealing with a single printer and co-operate by cross-selling advertising. Total turnover is well over £0.5m. Three of the publishers and several of the journalists are members of the NUJ.
Voice co-founder and ex-Bristol Evening Post assistant editor Richard Coulter said: “Across the country, publishers who have identified well-defined geographical or niche interest markets are both producing high quality publications and earning a living. With the conversation dominated by the as-yet unsolved digital conundrum of how to make money in online news without being propped up by print, it is high time some attention was given to those who are making print work.
“We have never said print will always be the only answer and the day may come when the digital golden bullet is found. But in the meantime, a profitable print operation is possibly the best way of putting journalists in a sustainable situation which would allow them to adapt as and when things change in the future.”
Home Handbook – a cross between Yellow Pages and a local newspaper in print and online – is the brainchild of former Blackpool Gazette senior design journalist Peter Ward. He now has 10 editions in Lancashire featuring vetted local businesses, including four editions done by his first franchisee. Together they print more than 110,000 copies annually, with a joint turnover well in excess of £200,000, and a second franchisee has just started on Merseyside.
Peter devised his directories after having difficulty finding a roofer, and a conversation with a self-employed friend who paid a lot of money for unsuccessful advertising.
Using the principle that faces sell papers, he believes householders prefer service providers they can see and know something about. Each Home Handbook carries a photograph and introduces the business person with an article about them and their services.
Peter Ward said: “Home Handbook was a big gamble but its success has exceeded my dreams. It works remarkably for advertisers, it is valued as a social service by readers and it has more than kept us in our family home. “I am adamant the handbook can only be done by experienced journalists, who must adapt to survive in this age of newspaper butchery. It is a good outlet for production and writing skills.
“Journalists will find it hard work but far more rewarding than slaving away in stressful conditions for an under-resourced newspaper, as I did. We must diversify our skills or see them wither and die.”
The Bristol Cable was born out of frustration with the mainstream media and a belief that Bristol deserved an investigative magazine which gave a voice to local people. As a co-operative now with over 900 active members, the Cable is redefining the structure and ownership of traditional media. It has links to the Centre for Investigative Journalism and tries to dig deep into issues such as offshore companies, gang violence, property developers, drug policy and local politics. Major use is made of infographics.
As a media co-op, it is supported by membership dues, advertising and donations. It now employs 15 freelancers on an equal-wage basis, has a turnover of £95,000, prints 20,000 copies four times a year, and publishes online multimedia content weekly. The Cable runs regular free media training sessions for its members on everything from data visualisation to submitting Freedom of Information requests. Several of the most active co-op members have joined the NUJ.
Alon Aviram, co-founder and editorial co-ordinator, said: “Communities across the UK have learned the hard way that local media in bad shape. But what can we actually do about it? Media is a public good, and in Bristol, 900 people have returned media into public hands. The Bristol Cable is the UK’s only city-wide media co-operative with 900 members; entirely owned and created by local people.”
Paul Breeden, chair of the Bristol Branch of the NUJ, will chair the meeting on April 16. He is the owner of the South Bristol Voice, one of the five Voice operations in Bristol.
Paul said: “The aim of this meeting is not to act as a sales pitch for any of these ideas. It is to stimulate interest in the hidden revolution in local publishing.
“All over the country, independent publishers are thriving by selling advertising in small-scale print publications, usually monthly, usually free and either delivered to homes or available to pick up.
“Yet strangely, many of them have lacked any input from professional journalists. Consequently the quality is sometimes low – many are full of unacknowledged advertorials and lack any meaningful editorial content.
“Why have journalists taken so long to get involved in this field? Possibly because while we know how to find and present the news, we often don’t have the business skills to make our own operation financially viable.
“I believe there are lots of journalists out there who would love the opportunity to set up on their own. I’ve been on a steep learning curve in the past year, setting up the South Bristol Voice, but now I have a business which I believe is viable and which is beginning to employ freelance journalists.
“This meeting in Southport isn’t about spoon-feeding any particular business model – it’s to show that there are a variety of ways that local journalism can be successful and independent.”