Boris Johnson has backed a new local newspaper in his constituency with a twist – it is fully staffed by students.
Although the Hillingdon Herald will be produced by undergraduate and postgraduate students at Brunel University, it will be for the whole local community rather than being a typical student newspaper.
Its tagline states it is “produced by Brunel University students for all Londoners”.
It is being edited by lecturer Rachel Sharp, a former group editor of seven Newsquest London titles including in Hillingdon whose first trainee reporter job was also in the borough, and Steve Cohen, formerly editor of Newsquest’s Bucks Free Press for almost 20 years.
Sharp (pictured, front) told Press Gazette the local news scene in the area had “changed massively and it’s such a shame because I have always loved local news and I do believe that local news has got a really important place in a community”.
She said the Hillingdon Herald has a style that may sound “old-fashioned” nowadays, with a focus on on-the-ground reporting including council meetings and investigative work but described it as a “love letter to traditional print journalism”.
“For me it’s all about what matters to real people who live in the area. I know it seems a bit different but that’s how things have changed so much,” Sharp added.
“I feel like there’s nothing for real local people that just want to know what’s going on in their borough.”
The area is covered online by Reach’s MyLondon, formerly Get West London, and Newsquest’s Hillingdon and Uxbridge Times which features a mixture of local community news and wider UK stories.
Some 10,000 copies of the Herald will be distributed in the Hillingdon borough each month from Monday (11 October) and it will also provide daily updates online.
The venture has been initially funded by Brunel University as a start-up with the aim of making money from advertising from around January – possibly with help from the Brunel Business School’s marketing students.
Sharp was optimistic there will be enough appetite from local businesses for the advertising to be sufficient. Despite the shift to digital many regional newspapers still depend on print revenues – at Reach in 2020, for example, print still accounted for 71% of total revenue.
Three serving local MPs have contributed to the first edition of the paper, including the Prime Minister, himself a former journalist.
Boris Johnson wrote: “While it is no secret that local media is facing significant challenges from changing news consumption habits, throughout the pandemic our local and regional newspapers have proved indispensable in bringing communities together and keeping residents reliably informed.
“I am pleased to be able to support and contribute to this new venture led by journalism students at Brunel University and very much hope it can provide a useful source of local news to residents across the borough.”
Johnson is joined in the paper by Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell, the former Shadow Chancellor, and David Simmonds, the Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner.
The project also has the benefit of giving students “real-world experience” at a time when fewer newsrooms are offering work placements because of time pressures or remote working, Sharp said.
The two editors are keeping a close eye on every story to make sure it lives up to its aim to be a “professional newspaper”.
“It isn’t just a student newspaper,” Sharp said. “It’s something that matters to real people.”
Picture: Brunel University