Launch team unveils plans for UK's 'first' region-wide weekly

Exclusive by Jon Slattery A new quality independent weekly covering the Northwest region is being planned for a Spring launch.

The team behind the paid-for tabloid paper claims the concept of a regionwide weekly is a first for the UK.

It
will be edited by former Guardian journalist Bob Waterhouse, who
launched the short-lived quality broadsheet North West Times in
Manchester in 1988.

Managing director is Nick Jaspan, who has
worked with Waterhouse on regional magazines, and Chris Candish,
ex-Trinity Mirror, is head of sales.

It will be based in Manchester and employ 14 journalists who, Waterhouse promises, will be paid above average regional rates.

Securing
the “seven-figure” finance needed to get the paper up and running is
said to be at an advanced stage, and backers include private investors
and institutions.

The name of the weekly is being kept secret,
but it is to circulate from Carlisle down to north Staffordshire and
between the Welsh borders and High Peak area of Derbyshire. It will be
available in Manchester and Liverpool, and it is also hoped the paper
will pick up sales in north Wales. It is aiming for an up-market AB
readership.

According to Waterhouse, the proposed circulation area for the new paper is covered by 12 dailies.

“The
concept is that with all that local media there isn’t a regional voice,
a paper that is looking at issues regionally. We are targeting the top
of the market. We think there are more than enough potential readers
within the region who are not getting from the local papers or
nationals the kind of information and comment they might do.”

Waterhouse
claims the paper will be unique. “The interesting thing about this
concept is that it has not been applied in other regions.”

The
paper will target professionals who are interested in “something
broader than local issues”, such as infrastructure, health, government
and business across the region, says Waterhouse.

He adds that the paper will not be parochial in outlook and will endeavour to break national stories.

The weekly is conceived as a 96-page paper with regular supplements and will have a total staff of 35.

“The
paper will be editorially led and stand or fall on the quality of its
reporting and of its whole editorial,” explains Waterhouse. “We will be
recruiting at rates quite a lot above the normal regional rates, so we
will be hoping to get some very good people.”

It is advertising for staff in this week’s Press Gazette. The paper will also have a substantial freelance budget.

The gloom surrounding cutbacks and job losses in the regional press have not daunted the launch team.

Waterhouse,
who founded the South Manchester Reporter, says: “Managements have got
very greedy, it’s all about share prices. As a sector, the regional
press is very profitable, that’s why we are optimistic.”

He also
claims there have been big changes in the region since the failure of
the North West Times, which folded after just seven weeks. “There is a
lot more going on and the Northwest is a lot more prosperous. From a
production point of view we can do much more inhouse and we can be much
more fleet footed because of the way technology has changed over the
past 17 years.”

Waterhouse says the lesson he learnt in producing
successful regional magazines was the importance of editorial: “You can
create a profitable regional product by investing in editorial, not by
disinvesting. The editorial side is very important to us.”

Managing director Nick Jaspan:
‘THERE’S STACKS OF MONEY OUT THERE’

Jaspan’s
only comparison to the new launch is the Sunday Herald and Scotland on
Sunday, writes Sarah Lagan. “They are the only weeklies covering an AB
regional audience, albeit the Scots would say it’s not a region, it’s a
nation,” he says.

“But in actual fact the sales of Scotland on Sunday and Sunday Herald are minuscule outside Scotland.”

His brother, Andrew Jaspan, was editor of the Sunday Herald and is now editor-in-chief of The Age in Melbourne, Australia.

Although
the focus is on the print edition, there will be a working website to
be headed by Nicola Young, former assistant managing director of the
Birmingham Post and Mail who went on to run Trinity’s Scottish digital
operations.

The regional press is suffering cutbacks,
redundancies and the merging of editorial functions, but Jaspan
believes it is still a good time to be launching the paper.

“The
changes work to our favour. It’s interesting that a fellow journalist
sent us a piece about America about how all the monopolies are changing
and breaking, and all the sub-regional estates, and I think we come at
a good time because we can work our product where it is both print and
web friendly at the same time.

“There’s stacks of money out there
and we’re saying we are going to take a fraction of one per cent of the
current market up there by delivering an AB product,” says Jaspan.

“We
think if we deliver something we and our peers would like to read then
advertising opportunities are going to come on the back of that.”

He
adds: “This will be required reading if you are a mover or shaker in
the Northwest. We are not asking them to stop taking the Telegraph or
the Independent.

You will be adding this on.”

Four non-executive directors have been lined up for the new project.

“We
have a good line-up of non-executives who are some of the most
experienced people in UK regional newspaper publishing,” says Jaspan.

Background
FORMER VENTURES

Jaspan
and Waterhouse formed a company called Newsco, which bought out the
regional business magazine Insider set up by a Scottish company Insider
Publications. The publication was losing money, but Jaspan convinced 3i
to invest in it for the management buyout. With Jaspan as managing
director and Waterhouse as editorial director, they turned it around
and employed 40 staff, including former FT northern correspondent Ian
Fazey. They sold the company to Regional Independent Media in 1999.

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