The rise of the newsletter offers regional news a lifeline

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When a data breach was exposed to Greater Manchester Police, subscribers to an embryonic news group were among the first to know.

The exclusive story on the accidental leak of personal information, including victims of sexual assault, was published by The Mill – a subscription newsletter dedicated to local stories impacting Manchester and the city boroughs.

Despite its launch a little over a year ago, the media startup has already accumulated 14,000 paid subscribers to its electronic newsletters. Such growth made him a credible challenger to the Manchester Evening News, the 153-year-old headline owned by Reach, also the parent company of the Mirror and the Express, which held a virtual monopoly on the city’s media coverage.

With sister titles now launching in Sheffield and Liverpool, The Mill’s success has raised hopes that a sustainable financial model can be found for regional news after declining advertising and newspaper sales left the local rag in a struggle for survival – which is set to get worse.

Local advertising is expected to fall 3.2% in 2022, according to a report by the Advertising Association and ARM, although it has rebounded from a 28% drop to rise 7% this year. Analysts have also warned that a 50% increase in newsprint prices in the last three months of 2021 could rise an additional 25% next year as inflation spikes costs.

With no newspaper to back up or a website to constantly fill with stories and sales coming directly from readers, The Mill founder and editor, Joshi Herrmann, has the freedom to focus on filling the gap. local vacuum.

“Bolton, Bury, Oldham and Rochdale’s journals either disappeared or collapsed to become skeletal staff,” he adds. “There are lots of communities that used to have a lot of local news reports and don’t have any now.

“This leaves the UK very out of balance. Tens of thousands of journalists have lost their jobs across the country, while the national media have held up better and are all based in London. There is this incredible disconnect.

“The newsletter template forces you to only post stories that you find really interesting. The big problem with conventional websites is this tendency to pile them up with content to try and get millions of page views. stories straight to an inbox, you think, “Is this high quality? Is this something that people are really going to want to read? “

The Mill is able to capitalize on what many headlines are calling for: more time to report the news. Although it has to fill out four newsletters per week, the outfit has far fewer stories than a traditional newspaper. This means that some journalists can spend a week working on two articles, which helps improve the depth and quality of the reporting.

“We are looking for the stories that warrant longer processing,” says Herrmann, who set up the £ 7-per-month service in the first lockdown after working for national titles. “Our stories are not often reported in the local media.”

“We read at length how Sean Fielding, the head of Oldham’s council, was ousted. It turned out that one of the reasons behind it was this online disinformation campaign against him. It was one of the reasons behind it. of our most successful stories because no one understood why he was gone.

Herrmann believes readers don’t want hundreds of articles about their communities, but smaller numbers that are reported in depth and provide insight.

“There are only a few things you want to read in your inbox and we give them almost 2,000 words, four times a week – that’s more than enough for most people,” he adds. -he.

Part of what makes The Mill unique is the technical service behind its business model. He uses Substack, a hot media startup that has made a living for journalists and individual writers by creating their own paid newsletter.

About 1 million people are now paying subscriptions to the multitude of Substack writers, including Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.

Yet some journalists have failed. Tech reporter Charlie Warzel left The New York Times for Substack but ultimately quit because he was making “considerably less”.

While the model does not work for everyone, the newsletter has proven to provide journalistic value. As The Mill challenges Reach on their own turf, the news group is also pursuing a newsletter strategy that generates returns through data.

Reach now offers over 400 free newsletters ranging from hyperlocal news in Teeside and Skegness to entertainment emails on Strictly Come Dancing. It is preparing to roll out a “newsletter first strategy” in regional newsrooms to engage readers, with an essay taking place in Bristol.

Reach uses newsletters to encourage readers to share as much data as possible, with the goal of generating more revenue through targeted digital advertising.

There are signs that it is working. Revenues for the group behind 110 regional titles rose ahead of plan in November, with recordings surpassing 8 million, from 6.7 million in July.

The city’s confidence in Reach’s data-driven strategy is such that its market value hit £ 1 billion in July for the first time since the financial crisis, proof that investors still believe an advertising model online can secure a strong future for the local rag.


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