Growing local weeklies reveal how they are bucking the print trend

The continuing decline of the regional printed press was once again in the spotlight last month following publication of the latest ABC figures for local newspapers.

Only two daily newspapers in the UK put on print circulation in the second half of 2012 – the Ipswich

Star and the Paisley Daily Express – and the situation was equally bleak among the paid-for weeklies,

which saw an average decline of more than 5 per cent.

Among the general gloom there were a handful of papers that managed to buck the downward trend – 13 of the UK’s 373 paid-for weeklies saw sales increase.

Once again the best-performing title was the Brentwood Gazette, up 29.5 per cent year on year to 14,864 thanks to the launch of its free Romford edition in April 2012.

This week Press Gazette spoke to some of the editors that pulled off the rare feat of increasing sales, but as the editor of the Romsey Advertiser noted, there was no “magic formula” for success.

Andrew Ross, whose paper was up 0.6 per cent in the last six months of the year to 6,497, said: “Romsey is a very tight-knit community and we have a loyal readership, who thinks that the newspaper is relevant to their lives.

“We also provide a unique service for them, because you can’t get the information anywhere else.

“The BBC has some local news but they cover very wide areas while we are very tightly focused on our area.”

Great leads and debates

Others, like Gravesend and Dartford Messenger Bob Bounds, have benefited from a lack of competition, following Archant London’s decision to merge its  part-paid for weekly Gravesend

Reporter with part-paid for sister paper the Dartford and Swanley Times.

The Messenger reported an impressive increase of 2.2 per cent. As well as the lack of competition he also credits the paper’s web strategy.

“Rather than see the web as a threat we publish most of our top stories first on our local site, which generates interest, and we use social media to add to our reach,” he told Press Gazette.

“We have as many Facebook friends and Twitter followers as copy sales. This generates great leads and debate – we’re much more part of the local conversation as a result.”

He added: “There’s no denying we’ve been assisted by changes made by our competitors in the local market. Basically, we’re the only show in town now.”

This sentiment was echoed by Stephen Houghton, editor of the Leek Post and Times.

“We have a very loyal readership and report very comprehensively from our patch,” he said. “Our success in print has also been replicated online, which we are very proud of.”

Others like Morpeth Herald editor Paul Larkin cited more traditional skills: “We try to keep the paper looking fresh while maintaining its traditionally-strong local content.

“We have streamlined and organised the Herald in the past year with new leisure and clubs sections and we are looking forward to relaunching the paper in a compact format on 21 March.”

Hard news, sport and nostalgia

The Arran Banner, which covers the Scottish Isle of Arran, enjoys one of the highest readership percentages in the UK – and perhaps even the world (it once made it into the Guinness Book of

Records for having the most sales per head of population anywhere in the world).

In the latest ABC figures it was up 2.1 per cent to 3,158.

Stewart Mackenzie, editorial director of the Arran Banner, commented: “The Arran Banner has a very enthusiastic team that generates a lot of good copy, which is reflected in our success as a local paper. We are committed to developing the paper.”

The Gainsborough Standard, meanwhile, has seen sales increase by 4.1 per cent to 3,676 despite the cover price going up.

Editor Ben Green said that the newspaper had benefited from local developments.

“Gainsborough’s a growing town and there is new investment in the area,” he said. There is a rise in population. We try to take a positive stance and support the local community rather than always going with a negative agenda.”

The newspaper was also recently redesigned and now provides “a very good mix of  ”, he said, making it making it the “most trusted in the area”.



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