The Welsh websites moving into print to fill the gaps left by media cuts

Two local news websites in Wales are set to launch in print this month as they seek to fill the “gaping hole” in regional coverage caused by editorial job cuts.

The Caerphilly Observer and Port Talbot Magnet, located in towns 30 miles apart, are both due to release printed editions.

Caerphilly Observer founder Richard Gurner has been able to make the transition into print because of a rural development partnership grant from Caerphilly County Borough Council.

The grant will fund the first four editions of the fortnightly, 16-page tabloid newspaper and Gurner is hoping this will act as a platform to attract more advertisers.  

He said: “I am proud to be reporting on my patch and believe there is a real need to provide this service to the community because of the huge gap in local news.

“The response to the website from readers and businesses alike has been overwhelmingly positive, but the question they kept asking us is when are we going into print?”

Since its launch in 2009, the Caerphilly Observer claims to have overtaken the website traffic of local newspaper Campaign, where Gurner began his career nine years ago. The website claims to attract an average of 50,000 page views and 20,000 unique visitors a month.

Gurner revealed how Campaign publisher Newsquest had sent him a letter stating that he was misleading advertisers with the visitor figures on his online media pack.

He said: “I actually found this complimentary as it was clear they mean business. I am now going head-to-head with my former newspaper.”

The former Brighton Argus reporter took inspiration from the Brixton Blog, which expanded into print with the launch of the Brixton Bugle in June 2012.

Speaking at the launch, Dickens said: “This signals the next chapter in the rise of hyperlocal journalism.”

Gurner was also spurred on to make the transition into print with the announcement from fellow South Wales news website the Port Talbot Magnet that they would be launching a monthly printed edition.

The Welsh town has been without a local paper since the closure of the Port Talbot Guardian in 2009 by Trinity Mirror.

Media Wales, which provides coverage for the areas of Port Talbot and Caerphilly, has also suffered significant job cuts with 16 of the total 92 editorial jobs recently cut from Trinity Mirror regional titles, coming from their papers.

The co-operative behind the Port Talbot Magnet was initiated by eight journalists in 2009 as a reaction to the cuts and the website was launched in 2011 to “establish a replacement news service” according to director Rachel Howells.

The current funding model ‘Pitch-in’ calls on local residents to support the website by producing and suggesting stories through the Little J app, sponsoring journalists and donating to the development fund.

Howells said: “We hope local people will take the chance to make this newspaper their own.  We know it will be a huge benefit to the town and we want to ensure everyone has a voice in it.”

Father of the National Union of Journalists at Trinity Mirror's Media Wales Martin Shipton said: “Trinity Mirror has been making editorial job cuts for the last ten years, with ever more disastrous consequences for its newspapers, leaving a gaping hole in local news.

“This has left a number of communities without a reporter, leading to what I call a democratic deficit.  People need to have news which holds local authorities to account.”

But Shipton questioned whether the newly-launched print editions would be able to build enough revenue to survive.  

He said: “I wish them well as this is a very courageous move considering the financial climate, so they deserve praise.  

“I am slightly sceptical because I am concerned the local operators will not be able to build enough revenue to sustain full-time employment, especially introducing the print element as well.  So this is what I describe as pro-bono journalism because the reporters will not be able to make a living out of it.”

Also in April two more local newspapers in England announced they are set to launch in the coming months.

Dorset’s Seeker News is set to unveil a new fortnightly newspaper today having launched as a website three years ago and as a monthly magazine last year.

Meanwhile, in Scarborough, a former sub-editor announced plans to launch a new monthly newspaper.

It is set to become the second title, after the Scarborough Voice, to launch in the area since the Scarborough Evening News went from daily to weekly last year.

Elsewhere, in Devon, the Tindle Newspapers-owned Crediton Courier has announced it is “bucking the trend” of local papers by switching from a fortnightly to a weekly publication.

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