Faced by a declining freelance market and a very real threat of going out of business, a family-run news and pictures agency expanded into publishing, writes Jean Morgan .
Now, more than five years on, Warrington-based Orbit News has moved into spacious new offices above a printing plant and turned the business around with innovative publications.
Father and son David and Gary Skentelberry publish four free glossy monthly magazines and a daily online newspaper, www.warrington-worldwide.co.uk, launched in April 1999. It now attracts more than 7,500 page impressions a day and has had well over one million visitors since launch.
The oldest of the monthlies, Lymm Life, celebrated its fifth anniversary in April, and Warrington-Worldwide magazine did likewise in September.
Village Life is heading for its fourth birthday and the latest venture, Culcheth Life, is in its second year.
Orbit News was founded in 1968 by David. He was joined in 1979 by Gary, now a partner in the business and founder and editor of the four magazines.
Their wives, Patricia and Janet, run accounts and administration.
David said: “All businesses have to change and when the freelance market began to decline, we had to do something.
“We know a lot of agencies decided to target different markets, such as women’s magazines but we decided to go back to basics and produce our own magazines, carrying the sort of local news which was at one time the staple diet of regional newspapers but which, it seems to us, is neglected these days.
“It has meant going back to parish council meetings – which we had not covered since we were juniors – and births, marriages and deaths. But the response from our readers has been fantastic. People like local news.”
Gary, who trained both as a reporter and a photographer, has now also taken on management responsibilities for the magazine group.
He said: “We have plans to expand further and would be interested to hear from any other freelances or agencies who think a similar operation would work for them in their own area.
“We have picked up a lot of experience along the way which we would be willing to share.”