By Tim Dixon
The Wales Millennium Centre was a heart-warming place to be yesterday for anyone who believes in the future of local journalism – and the important part print can play in delivering it.
The new wave of entrepreneur local publishers were there in force to demonstrate their passion for grassroots reporting and their commitment to build enterprises that paid their way while serving faithfully the communities where they lived.
The event – Building the Future of Community Journalism, a conference staged by Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism – was a life-affirming occasion for those publishers who are already up and running and an inspiration for those of us who are poised to take the plunge. And it was a refreshing antidote to the gloomy position of the mainstream local press.
Four pioneers who are making a success of community publishing painted an honest, warts-and-all picture of the sector.
Rich Coulter, one of the key figures behind the 17-edition Voice network of free titles in Bristol and Wells, was refreshingly candid about the challenges involved. He urged people considering new start-ups to ensure they had a sustainable business proposition and to “get yourself a brilliant sales person” to bring in the lifeblood of advertising revenue.
James Cracknell, editor of the 16-page monthly Waltham Forest Echo, explained how a Big Lottery grant funded the title’s first four editions.
Richard Gurner of the Caerphilly Observer told how it started life online before launching in print in 2013 with a business grant from the local council, also to cover the first four editions. The Observer now publishes 10,000 copies fortnightly.
Jeremy Morton shared his experiences of running South Leeds Life, a 20-page free monthly.
None of them said it was easy but they all seemed to relish their community role and the opportunity to take charge of a viable and valuable enterprise.
All four members of this panel spoke in a session labelled Why Print is Far From Dead. They were right. It isn’t.