Launching a new newspaper might be madness. But The New European has lessons for us all.

 

There are many definitions of madness.

There’s one attributed to Albert Einstein, which I have often heard used by editors and other senior media managers to justify change in our industry.

“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”

There’s much sense in that sentiment, which is why it has been used by both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

But members of the group Hacks Anonymous – which often meets in the comments section of Hold the Front Page – might have an even more specialist definition: launching a new print newspaper.

Why would you contemplate such a complicated and labour-intensive alternative to simply setting fire to money?

My friends at HA will, I imagine, be reaching for the ‘I told you so’ line in their ready-made press punditry kits, and control V-ing it into the comments box of today’s story about the demise of the 24 newspaper. (Although if they’re having as much trouble as me getting the site to load, they might have to amuse themselves with Press Gazette’s version.)

The project launched by CN Group to serve the north of England and the Scottish borders has survived little more than a month.

At least no jobs will be lost with this closure, which is probably more than can be said for Trinity Mirror’s New Day experiment.

Although I was in many ways encouraged by that company’s willingness to try something new, its closure after nine weeks has left what is rumoured to be a £1 million bill, along with bitterness among some staff and condemnation from media commentator Roy Greenslade.

But the new titles keep coming, with a planned tit-for-tat launch in Oxford, and a new monthly paper in Bridlington.

And then there’s the New European.

new e

Archant’s pop-up paper aimed at the 48 per cent of us who voted Remain now looks like popping up for a bit longer than its scheduled four-week stint.

It combines break-out design with meaty long reads and offers another glimmer of encouragement to those of us who value serious and engaging politics coverage, coming hard on the heels of figures revealing print sales and online audiences were boosted by the referendum.

So why is it succeeding where New Day so dismally failed?

I like to think it comes down to the c-word. In fact, a few c-words.

The most important of these is community.

The letters page offers evidence every week of the strength of feeling that exists among Remainers, with a sense of burning indignation that has created a band of brothers and sisters determined to learn lessons and ensure that Brexit doesn’t break Britain.

New Day attempted to carve out something of a niche for itself as a straightforward, optimistic publication with a slightly more feminine window on the world.

But it soon became overwhelmed by what one of my favourite reporters would call blandalism.

The New European, on the other hand, has a very unambiguous outlook on life. While it is keen to explore why many of the 52 per cent behaved the way they did on June 23, it is also deliberately and unashamedly partisan.

In short, it has character.

More than that – largely thanks to the energy, spirit and sheer bloodymindedness of its creator Matt Kelly – it also has chutzpah. There’s an unapologetic verve to its social media activity and a light touch which balances some of its coverage.

ne twitter

Finally, it has decent content – much of which is comment.

Archant has found some of the most interesting, incisive and entertaining writers around, and allowed them to tap into a part of the zeitgeist for as long as it remains current.

Clearly, at some point, the New European will come to the end of the road.

But, until then, it offers the rest of our industry food for thought.

Are we putting enough effort into print, for instance?

A piece written by analyst Lorna Tilbian for the News Media Association urges big brands to prioritise print advertising in the wake of the Brexit boost.

This is incredibly difficult stuff. The rate of print sales decline of some regional titles is eye-watering, and it is fantasy to think that our children will be drawn to buy them in the way that previous generations have.

And yet, aside from the fact that it brings in around 80 per cent of ad revenue, a former editor friend of mine reminded me of another aspect of the power of print this week.

He spoke to some schoolchildren a couple of years ago and asked how many had seen their names on news websites. Not many had.

He then asked them how many had had their name in a local paper. Most had.

Finally, he asked them which coverage had meant the most to them.

The kids were – to slightly paraphrase a Sham 69 song title that my friend would love – united.

It was the print story that they could show their gran, that led to friends’ parents knowing about their achievement, and which they could keep forever.

I keep coming back to this idea of community.

A million years ago, one of my many jobs was to act as internet policeman.

As I’ve explained before, my beat wasn’t the entire web – it was just the comments section of bathchronicle.co.uk.

Moderating the comments and the spats was intensely frustrating at times.

But I saw some tweets one day that made it all worthwhile.

A group of regular commentators – regular offenders, some of them – had decided to meet up in the offline world. In a pub. For a drink.

They’d never met each other before. But they felt part of something the Chronicle had created.

I’m also intrigued by publications such as the Economist, although I realise it has the advantage of not just a niche audience, but one that’s prepared to pay online too.

ecn

I like its approach to social media, and the way it respects its audience as if they are members of a club.

And there’s the potential of targeted email newsletters, which could be undergoing a revival as a way to create that sense of community which must be at the heart of any 21st century media strategy.

Whether they be truly local or hyperlocal, or a niche product, the publications and sites that survive will have both a clear idea of their audience and an ability to be catalysts in their communities. Whatever those communities are.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s