Kent on Sunday swoops on local news market

Local newspapers are in a prime position to provide online TV news because of the close relationships they have with local communities.

This is the belief of managing director of the Kent-based KoS Media Paul Stannard, speaking to Press Gazette following his company’s launch last Wednesday of regional TV news service as well as eight new websites to accompany eight new free local newspapers.

The £1m launch of free news services for Thanet, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone, Ashford, Maidstone, Medway and Swale coincided with the announcement of proposals by ITV to scale back its local news service across the country, reducing spending by £40m out of its full £120m budget. Stannard clearly sees the news as a potential blessing for his own business.

‘There is an opportunity here for us. The head of ITV Local (managing director Mohammed Raja) only said a few weeks ago in Press Gazette that he wanted local newspapers to work with them because they don’t seem to be getting the local thing right, and we have the local relationships.

‘It’s going to make a lot of regional media owners stop and think maybe there’s a gap in the market here.”

On Wednesday the main focus was on getting the newspapers out while the online content was given a soft launch, but KoS Media is planning to start putting out news via WAP to mobile phones within a matter of weeks and put online a backlog of 800 short video news bulletins and citizen journalism packages.

Among the online video tasters released on the day, flagged up in the various newspapers, was a full interview with Gillingham manager Ronnie Jepson, uploaded on to the site within hours of his resignation, and a bulletin about ram raiders stealing cashpoint machines from a local leisure centre.

Citizen Journalism packages include a Margate fish-shop owner discussing depravation in the area and what traders need to do to combat the problem.

KoS Media is in talks with police and the NHS to allow the organisations to occupy regular slots on the website, while the online community will extend to an eBay-style online car-boot sale service.

Stannard holds firm to the view that, despite the advances in technology and expansion of services thrown up by the internet, all content online should remain free to the reader.

‘There’s no paid-for content because I believe that all quality media will eventually be free; the genie is out of the bottle.’he says.

‘We’re going to have what I call video classified; we’ll encourage the public so we can have community boot fares online. We might not get the income from the person selling the bike or the car but the banner ads down the sides that relate to it are going to get TV sized audiences but without the TV production costs attached to them in terms of the ad rates.

‘Although our target was for the new business to be making profit by March of next year I have a feeling that in certain weeks in September we are actually going to be close to making profit – at least gross profit in our first month.

‘I’m not saying we are going to stay there every week; the majority of our advertising has been sold for 52-week contracts.”

KoS Media had to tighten its belt in the run up to launch of papers and websites (called yourthanet, yourmaidstone and so on).

As well as ‘general housekeeping’savings, pagination of the Kent on Sunday and Saturday Observer was, for some time, reduced by 20 per cent while investment was made in technology and staff.

Seven out of 11 journalists hired for the new papers are trainees, all having passed their NCTJ pre-entry exams bar one.

Group editor Gary Wright, who is responsible for the new 72-page weeklies, their websites and TV stations, is confident that despite there being a majority of inexperienced journalists, they will be given expert guidance from the newsdesk.

Journalists have been armed with laptops and phones so they can work remotely from the group’s headquarters in Ashford, while there are three company video cameras available. Reporters can also buy their own digital video cameras on expenses.

An outside film company, a division of Lavender Blue, has been drafted in to help journalists with camerawork, editing and production.

Wright says that despite the multimedia drive, the priority is for staff to write stories, and he has offered the trainees a £500 incentive to get their 100 words a minute shorthand.

He says: ‘What they are here to do first and foremost is to provide the web and the paper with that constant running news.

‘There are more trainees than normal but we had to start somewhere. I took on the ones I did because they are enthusiastic and they are up for the job, not necessarily because they were the best qualified.

‘The newsdesk is very experienced. Chris Britcher, who has worked on agencies and edited the website Sport Business, and Dave Mairs, who has been in newspapers for 14 years on a wide variety of publications, will between them edit the midweek titles under me.

‘On the newsdesk we have Jon Coates, who’s been at Kent News and Pictures and was the PA guy for Kent, and our reporter Nick Ames, who’s been a reporter in Kent, man and boy, for 20 years. They all have a lot of experience to offer our trainees.

‘I personally intend to make sure these people have as many skills as they can get before they move on.

‘I think our staff are in a better position than trainees on most papers; they’re not shovelling crap into pages to fill up. They have 20 to 24 news stories a week.’

Wright says he aims to set up a training scheme by the time the trainees’ three-month probationary period is up.

Trainee sports reporter David Pritchard says: ‘When I started a couple of months ago the new papers were only being talked about. To begin with I was Saturday and Sunday papers and I was on my own at that point on sport. After a couple of weeks you get used to that sort of workload.

‘It changed massively with the new papers; on sport we have gone up from six pages a week to 20, which means we have had to contact a bigger range of smaller clubs and, in a way, rewrite the contacts book.

‘We have cameras here that I would take out on my own, for instance to Gillingham, but for some packages there has been a cameraman with me, which makes it easier. Then you can focus on what you are writing and what the person is saying.

‘In terms of presenting and camera skills, we probably haven’t had too many pointers on that so far.

‘Although I was on a print course at Sheffield we were trained a fair bit on convergence, so I had prior experience of working a camera and the basics on the production side. It’s good to put that into practice and to be somewhere where they are embracing the changes.’

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