A former regional newspaper sub-editor made redundant by Johnston Press says that a business he launched could offer hope to other journalist in a similar position.
Peter Ward took redundancy as Blackpool Gazette chief features sub in July 2010 to set up Home Handbook, an annual directory which he describes as a cross between a local newspaper and Yellow Pages.
He says he now earns double what he did as a senior regional newspaper journalist.
“This is an idea for journalists by a journalist,” he said. “It works better than I could have dreamed – on the web and in print – and enables one person in a bedroom to earn a far better living than in newspapers.
“Most experienced journalists will have the skill set. The only question is whether they have the mind-set to step out of their comfort zone.”
Instead of carrying adverts, the Home Handbook carries short human-interest stories about each business, plus a photograph. Articles are also loaded on to a micro-web page for each business.
Ward said: “This is neither traditional journalism nor conventional advertising
“We track down decent businesses and the booklets are factual and socially useful, although the customer has the final say on their article.”
Ward has now signed up his first full-time franchisee, former sport chief-sub editor of the Daily Star Sunday Alan Barnes who took redundancy last month from his Preston-based job last month.
Barnes said: “In 20 hectic months I have already produced five Home Handbooks, netting profit of around £60,000.
"My message to journalists facing the threat of unemployment is to take these Home Handbooks very seriously.
“I worked as a production journalist for 17 years, earning pathetic amounts of money. It got to the point where I knew it was game over at the Daily Star Sunday when, having worked a 10-hour shift, chief subbing and night editing on sport for around £135 after tax, I compared it to how much and how quickly I could make the same amount selling a space in one of my handbooks. It was a no-brainer.
"Happily for me, voluntary redundancy was offered and I jumped at it. And I can report that I haven't looked back and I have no regrets whatsoever.
"Peter's idea is simple but brilliant and home owners really like these booklets and keep them. I owe Peter a huge debt of gratitude. Life is so much better now. I work from my spare bedroom which has been converted into an office, I work Monday to Friday at sociable times and feel like I have got my life back."
Ward said: “Alan has shown that my model can be replicated by journalists with writing and production skills. And this can only be done by journalists – a non-journalistic publication has already tried to copy my approach and given up."
Home Handbook has nine publications around Preston with a total of 94,000 copies going out every 15 months.
Franchisees are invited to pay £6,000 up front and then three per cent of their turnover. In exchange they get access to all the print and web templates, a handbook and ongoing advice from Ward. Distribution of the booklets is by home delivery.
Ward said: “There’s a lot of competition but it’s invariably throw away and not done by trained journalists. The quality on this is so good, when people see it it’s a very easy sell.
“Selling was a challenge. I’ve just been open and frank and honest. After they’d seen first edition it tends to tell itself
“It produces some staggering results because it’s got that faces sells papers feel to it.”