One year old Docklands weekly says positive news is working

Archant London’s free weekly newspaper The Docklands celebrates its first birthday in good financial health, despite launching in one of the regional newspaper industry’s most difficult years.

The paper has increased advertising revenues by 20 per cent over the past 12 months and now has an ads to editorial ratio of 50/50, with a 10-page property section on top.

Archant London’s deputy managing director Garry Matthews says: ‘The barometer really is that we have seen the paper go from 48 to 56 and 64 pages, and that growth has been on the back of advertising. ‘Because The Docklands is new to the market, it has taken a slice of the existing cake and grown the market as well, which we are very pleased with.’Archant felt its fledgling title would need to carve out a unique niche in the market to set itself apart from its main well-established rival, The Wharf.

In response, editor Amanda Patterson has injected an element of lifestyle into the paper, and says she aims to reflect the aspirational, positive elements of what is a particularly affluent part of the capital. She says: ‘You have your financial publications and you have your newspaper, The Wharf, which was already being offered. We wanted to do something different and what I think was missing was more lifestyle news and more entertainment. ‘These guys and girls are grafting all week and want to know what to do with their well-earned pounds, and we show them how to make the most of this corner of London, which is evolving every single month.

‘The Wharf is an established paper and has been here a long time. We are not focusing so much on the crime and doom and gloom stories.

‘We’re not going to ignore it if there is a murder on our doorstep, but we try to dig a little deeper to find the more positive, human interest angle.’Patterson demonstrated this approach last February with a picture front on the 10th anniversary of the Docklands bombing.

The top half of the page carried a picture of the aftermath of the bombing in 1996 and the bottom half showed how the site had been rebuilt, accompanied by a message from defiant Docklanders. ‘The idea was to show how you can’t stop us,’says Patterson.

According to Matthews, one of the main difficulties of circulating in Docklands has been the transient nature of its workers and residents – an issue which hits most London newspapers.

He says: ‘London is different in a lot of cases. There often isn’t a history with the papers, as the population is so transient. It would never have worked as a paid-for as there are so many free publications.’The lack of a readers’ page in The Docklands is perhaps one indication of a lack of long-term dedication to the title from readers. Patterson tried introducing a letters page in the spring but after a few months realised it wasn’t working.

Regeneration Huge regeneration projects are under way in the Thames Gateway, which are expected to bring 120,000 new homes and 180,000 jobs.

Patterson says: ‘We are looking at it in terms of who the new residents are, and what their demographics are, to find out what they want and give it to them. ‘As that particular market expands, we will be looking at future developments.”

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