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Community centred

As the publishing landscape continues to change, Tindle Newspapers is embracing the opportunities on offer through digital while remaining true to the community strengths on which its success was based, says Managing Director Scott Wood.

By Scott Wood

Community centred
“We believe a presence on the High Street for our local communities is vital.”

Having built a strong reputation for publishing community-based news and information in some of the nation’s most scenic seaside locations and market towns, the team here are enthusiastic to develop personally and grasp the opportunities ahead of them.

With twenty plus brands covering key locations in Surrey, Hampshire, the South West, Wales and the Isle of Man, our blend of ultra local news and community advertising, in print and online, means we continue to offer trusted local brands in some of the most beautiful parts of the country.

We have titles dating back to the late 1700s, giving us a strong bond with local people who identify with our brands as being their news title.

Like all publishers, we have faced the challenges of audience migration to online platforms which has impacted our traditional print revenues.

In recognising how our audiences have changed to consume local news in a more digital way, we have increased the implementation of technology and the ways it can positively impact our markets. We continue to focus on three key areas: people, local strengths, community presence.

Both our recent financial performance and the company balance sheet remain strong, giving us a positive outlook for the future.

Our evolution has been gradual, but we are seeing the benefits of investment and an openness to experiment, all while remaining true to our heritage strengths.

Building a team for the future

We are attracting and retaining capable people who want to work in an evolving, positive environment based in the community.

Our titles offer news and marketing platforms at a town or village level which other businesses or the regional broadcasters cannot reach, so we are focused on sustaining local journalism and investing in people.

We have increased training and entry level opportunities for new talent, thinking differently to position the company as an employer of choice unmatched in our communities.

Our print, digital and radio operations teamed up to create a unique training scheme which enables entrants to learn how to produce high-quality content for newspapers, podcasts, news websites and radio broadcasts.

The first two trainee journalists to take up our exciting multimedia news career development opportunity started in August 2023.

Lily Buckley (on the left) and Amelia Averis and were the first two trainee journalists to start the multimedia news career development programme.

Lily Buckley and Amelia Averis began their journey at the Mid-Devon Advertiser to gain three months of working within a local publishing business.

They will progress to work for three-months in digital news training on our websites, locating at our Jersey radio station Channel 103, then at Midlands 103, our radio station in Ireland, before spending 12 months specialising at one centre.

We hope they become not only qualified journalists, but individuals with a wide understanding of the media space.

Our first five editorial apprentices, who were recruited after more than 200 people applied in 2021 in response to a drive for community-based reporters, all qualified as journalists and were awarded full-time contracts.

The apprentices gained skills in providing video content for our websites, photographs for publication and engaging news copy, as well as experience of digital publishing and social media audience development.

Our plan is to enrol another cohort of apprentices early into 2024, again seeking to find individuals with enthusiasm to develop new skills in the ever-changing publishing space.

We are proud to have four reporters in the current cohort of the Facebook owner Meta-funded Community News Project (CNP), offering us incredible news coverage in under-reported areas.

Allowing people access into journalism who may otherwise not have been able to, the CNP Tindle reporters cover the Wellington region in Somerset, the Tamar Valley on the Devon and Cornwall border and the farming communities throughout Mid-Devon. A fourth CNP reporter reports on the communities around Aberystwyth, including Welsh language speakers.

Leveraging our traditional values

As much as the world has changed, we hold true to the business values which have brought so much.

Our staff care about, belong to and participate in the communities that we serve.

Outside of building relationships with local news contacts, the community and the advertisers, the majority of which are independent businesses, our staff are active in the areas where they live.

Lianne Carr, sales manager of the Tavistock Times Gazette series, is among our team who support the Dickensian Evening held each year close to Christmas.

Reporter Julian Barnes went back to his village primary in Devon as part of his training to report as youngsters took on a snowy cross-country run for a hospice charity.

Our ambition remains to be the leading media employer in small, local markets, many of whom are some distance from cities or large towns where digital-based opportunities are more prevalent.

It is infectious to see how many of our staff embrace the chance to build meaningful relationships with the people around them.

Alex Woodbee, sales manager for our Surrey and Hampshire brands, said: “I like that every day I learn something new about the community where I live.”

Investing in local community presence

We believe a presence on the High Street for our local communities is vital.

Although hybrid working has grown since the pandemic, we employ staff in fifteen local offices, many in prominent positions where people drop in for meetings about news or advertising.

It may be against the tide in the industry but in the last year, we have moved the Cornish and Devon Post office to Southgate Street, Launceston, opened new offices in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, as well as Monmouth in Wales, with plans to refurbish and open High Street offices in Tavistock, Kingsbridge and other locations.

Our staff are proud their news brand has an accessible home, in the heart of the towns where the title was founded.

Training new editorial talent in their communities has a benefit for both parties, as Joe Corrick, who completed his apprenticeship at the Brecon & Radnor Express, summed up: “Where others in our industry may have large areas to cover or long commutes, I have got to know the community where I live.”

Building a tech future

Like so many businesses, technology plays an increasing role in our operation.

We recently introduced a new online platform which allows advertisers to self-serve targeted digital advertising across our network.

Using technology, an advertiser can build a campaign, pay for it and start advertising to local customers within the hour.

No minimum spend is required, advertisers can pick from a range of formats and only pay for what we deliver, with a full campaign report delivered at the end of the advertising period.

The Media Isle of Man events team.

Throughout the Isle of Man TT last summer, our news team produced a daily digital newsletter, Full ThroTTle, which went to 1800 subscribers each morning.

It had fantastic open and click-through rates, giving us a strong opportunity to build upon in the future.

Meanwhile, editorial colleagues across our business are developing new skills needed to engage digital audiences.

The training, which is available to all Tindle journalists, includes practical sessions on filming video using mobile phones and recording audio, all for publication on our websites. Senior editorial colleagues have introduced a structured approach for training the skills needed to attract readers across our digital and print portfolio.

On a personal basis, our reporter Rebecca Brahde, who became visually impaired at 16, is using the latest screen reader technology as well as an AI transcription service for preparing her notes and copy, giving her access to an industry where opportunities would have been limited in previous generations.

Being more than just a traditional publisher

As well as reporting on the news, we celebrate the best of our regions to make a positive difference.

Held annually for more than twenty years, the Awards for Excellence by Media Isle of Man celebrate the island’s best business and community initiatives.

With 31% of the island’s community being under the age of 30, our web platform Gef and Media Isle of Man decided it was time to put our island’s future leaders into the spotlight.

They launched the 30 Under 30 awards celebration, which brings together the best of the community with the 30 winners showing the bright future for the island. The 2024 event is already gathering momentum.

Our Forest Review newspaper in the Forest of Dean held its first ever Community Hero Thank You Awards to coincide with National Thank You Day in July and invited readers to nominate their unsung heroes for recognition.

Regional editor Liz Davies said: “Chatting to one winner, an incredibly brave 17-year-old lad with a terminal brain tumour who spends his time fundraising to create a retreat for young people with similar conditions, was truly inspiring and brought into focus how important the awards had been.”

Future direction

With so much change experienced in our industry, there is no “one size fits all” approach to digital which can be adopted by all publishers.

We draw upon traditional strengths, such as our commitment to community news specific to local areas, while embracing the potential of new technology.

New roles are being created, with new opportunities to manage our newsletter and video strategy.

Our evolution is not complete but by maintaining our local presence while building upon it with a modern approach, we aim to see our business become more effective and profitable in the years ahead.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.