Independent publishing company KoS Media is to launch eight weekly newspapers across Kent along with accompanying websites and what it describes as “online TV stations” in a £1m venture.
KoS Media will also be putting out news via WAP to mobile phones and will be using YouTube-style technology on the local sites.
The project, which is the culmination of two years’ planning by former Trinity Mirror publishing director Paul Stannard and journalist Ian Patel, is due to launch in September – five years to the day since the company formed with the launch of award-winning Kent on Sunday.
Between 15 and 20 journalists are to be employed in the venture, working from the company’s existing headquarters in Ashford and, in an unusual move for the local press, all will be provided with laptops and mobile phones.
Twenty extra sales staff were taken on three months ago to prepare for the launch.
Saturday Observer editor Gary Wright is to become group editor of the new 72-page weekly free tabloids, their websites and TV stations.
Under him will be Chris Britcher and Dave Mairs who will between them edit the midweek titles, published on Wednesdays or Thursdays.
Kent on Sunday editor Bernard Ginns will also become editor of the Saturday Observer and continue his role overseeing the group’s county website kentnews.co.uk.
Kentnews.co.uk will now carry all the news from the local newspapers and their websites including their various niche TV sections such as Leisure, Property, Business and Motors.
The businesses are to launch in Thanet, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone, Ashford, Maidstone, Medway and Swale.
Each platform will carry similar names; the printed version for Canterbury is Your Canterbury Paper, the website is Your Canterbury and online TV accessed through the site is Your Canterbury TV.
Many regional newspapers have been cutting back resources and jobs in response to the downturn in advertising and to invest in their multimedia operations.
But KoS Media managing director Paul Stannard said: “We flew in the face of everything five years ago and we are doing it again.
“We know our market and all the major advertisers, including P&O, the major shopping centres and motor dealers, are supporting us. We’ve gained the trust through Kent on Sunday.
“[The papers] will have the same type of quality editorial that Kent on Sunday has been recognised for. They are quality free papers and will not be stacked to the brim with advertising.
“I think the advertising downturn is both [cyclical and structural]. I think the downturn is now flattening out, but [advertising] is out there if you have a dynamic offering.
“We are technology driven; these are modern newspapers, modern websites that basically create a virtual community online. With the technology we have developed, the public can upload anything from bands to birthdays to video diaries or video petitions.”
Stannard added: “We intend to have our journalists out in their communities, not sat in their office in Ashford.
The investment isn’t going into bricks and mortar, it’s going into technology.”
The papers will be available from pickup bins across Kent and the company aims to match the circulations of the predominant rival paid-fors in each area.
The papers will launch against Trinity’s weekly Folkestone Herald and Dover Express (circulation 23,353), East Kent Gazette (15,040), Isle of Thanet Gazette (14,843) and Medway News (10,142), which are currently being sold to Northcliffe Media, and the Kent Messenger Group’s weekly Kent Messenger (53,987) and Kentish Gazette (26,786).
KoS Media’s editorial director Ian Patel said: “Kent is a very busy media market, but we do believe we are offering something unique when you add the different platforms together. We have a proven track record of innovation and being able to carve out a corner of the market for ourselves.”
Media analyst for Bridgewell Securities Andrew Walsh added: “New launches by new publishers into an area, as opposed to existing publishers launching newspapers, are generally quite difficult to do.
“There’s a fairly settled pattern of ownership of regional newspapers in different markets – the competitive landscape is pretty fixed and therefore new entrants by new publishers are quite tough.
“At the same time a lot of people are questioning their commitment to regional newspapers, so as a business model it is probably more difficult now than it has been. For something to succeed it does have to embrace the online future and maybe a piece of media which is perceived as both on and offline from the word go might have an advantage in that.”
In 2004, Kent on Sunday became the first free newspaper to win the overall newspaper of the year prize at Press Gazette’s Regional Press Awards.