How do you take your hyperlocal publication into print?

By Hannah Scarbrough | 18th Sep 2016

While the terms ‘hyperlocal’ or ‘community news’ are often associated with the digital publishing revolution, many services which begin life online make the move ‘back’ to print in order to maximise advertising profits. With the rise in the use of ad blockers making online revenue even more precarious, we may see many more hyperlocal publications making this leap. Indeed, some community journalists have argued that print is the only viable option for making money from local news: “the solution is there, literally, in black and white”. And moneymaking’s not the only reason journalists are looking to print; many also favour this medium as it allows them to reach communities who are unable to access online platforms.

Whatever your opinion on the future of print, it is undeniable that some of the most prominent community news operations in the UK (from the Caerphilly Observer to The Bristol Cable) attribute some of their success to the presses. So how do you go about transforming your hyperlocal website to a fully fledged newspaper? Here’s our step-by-step guide…

Do you have time/people/resource?

Caerphilly ObserverAs ever in community news, you have to start by thinking about whether you have the time, manpower and capital needed to run a printed newspaper. A lot of this depends on how often you want to run it (see below), but there are some unavoidable time saps involved in producing a print edition. You also need to consider the financial viability of the project – Rachel Howells of the Port Talbot Magnet recommends having a business plan and financial forecast before starting.

If you do decide to make the leap into print, it’s crucial to give yourself ample planning time, says Richard Gurner of the Caerphilly Observer: “Give yourself a long lead time before launch. The first edition is crucial to get funds in – especially if budgets are tight for a second, third, fourth etc. It’s no good deciding to launch a newspaper next week and then only giving yourself seven days to sell advertising (not to mention everything else) and not covering your costs.” 

Deciding on format

Think about how you want your publication to look and how often you want to publish it. If you’re dipping your toe in the water, it may be best to experiment with a quarterly paper to ensure you don’t over-stretch yourself. Apart from frequency, you also need to consider the size of your newspaper, balancing this with your overhead costs. Richard Gurner says: “How many pages can you realistically fill with editorial and advertising in your print cycle? Try and find a model that works financially and on a production level.”

Many hyperlocals opt for a traditional tabloid print format, as this is synonymous with local news, and often cheaper to boot. However if you do want your publication to hang around on coffee tables for several months, or you cover more lifestyle content than news, you may be interested in a durable format such as a magazine.

Richard Gurner explains that you also have to take paper quality into account: “The thinner the paper the cheaper the cost, but having a newspaper too thin (especially with low pagination) could lead to readers having a perception of a ‘rubbish’ newspaper.” Rich Coulter of the Voices series in Bristol agrees: “Don’t pick the cheapest paper stock just because it is the cheapest. A hard to read phone number on an advert will cost you money.”

Rachel Howells says: “Litho can be a lovely format for a small print run as photos are much crisper but it is better for a small print run as it is expensive.” She preferred the tabloid format for the Port Talbot Magnet’s larger print runs, although she explained that you may have to make a compromise on the quality of your images. The porous paper of a tabloid newspaper means that the ink can bleed into the page – “it’s never 100% crisp you have to make sure the advertisers’ artwork is suitable”, says Rachel.

For your artwork, any white text on black or colour backgrounds needs to be big and bold. Rachel also recommends no less than 8 point font for readability. Rich Coulter recommends doing your homework: “Do reader research to ensure your tyeface is big enough, especially if you have an older readership. No one will criticise you for having type that is too BIG.” Rich also recommends sticking to one font family, “to avoid ‘school magazine’ patchwork quilt effect”.

Rachel recommends working closely with your designer and printer to discuss printing/artwork needs and raise any issues. If you have a close working relationship with your printer, she says, you are much more likely to produce a better quality newspaper and resolve printing issues quickly. Also, you can provide a guidance sheet to advertisers who are sending in their own artwork to avoid potential problems.

Pricing your paper

Another key consideration is the cost of your newspaper. Do you give it away for free, and rely on the advertising revenue, or have a cover price? Most hyperlocal publications produce free editions, but there are other options. It is at least worth thinking about whether you might want to sell some or all of your copies before you start. Again – researching your potential readers is key to find out whether they would buy your newspaper and how much they might be willing to pay.

Designing your publication

Newspaper design and layout is a technical skill, and it may be one you have to buy/borrow in. For example, the Port Talbot Magnet pay for a designer who manages layout as well as designing adverts on request.

The Grangetown News team, a voluntary group based in Cardiff, are lucky to have two former newspaper layout staff working on the paper. However, even seasoned designers need to get familiar with new software, such as InDesign. James Taylor, Technical Demonstrator based at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies delivered InDesign training (facilitated by C4CJ). James says: “With so many different design software available it can be difficult to work out which one you should use. Our students currently use InDesign, but alternatives I have used in the past include Microsoft Publisher (a good entry level option) and Scribus (a free-to-use software which is comparable to InDesign).” James also recommends having a paper plan before you begin designing, and looking at examples from other publications to get a sense of how you want your publication to look.

You can also use free online tools such as PicMonkey and Canva to make graphics and resize images. Richard Gurner recommends keeping design in-house to keep costs low, but advises: “Try and balance that out with not letting the quality of your content suffer.”

Selling advertising

This may be the most challenging aspect of setting up your own print publication. If you decide to manage advertising sales yourself, not only will this detract from your reporting time, but it also constitutes an entirely different skill. There is also the question of editorial integrity to consider, explains Rachel, when attracting advertisers. How would you manage printing a negative story about an advertiser? These questions are worth considering at the outset.

Advertising sales can be a full time job, and if you do decide to employ a salesperson, you need to think carefully about their terms of employment. The Port Talbot Magnet  worked with a HR consultant to create a contract that worked for both parties. This arrangement offers a basic rate of pay with a sales target that, if reached, enables the salesperson to earn 20% commission. Rachel also recommends mobilising your network in your search for a salesperson; she found a salesperson through mutual contacts on Linkedin.

Research your local advertisers – what are they willing to pay? Look into other media outlets in your area, and at hyperlocal publications across country, to get a better idea of the prices to pitch for your advertising spaces.

Finding a printer

Community news publications such as The Edinburgh Reporter and Connect Cannock have used Newspaper Club to take their service into print. Newspaper Club offer a variety of formats, from Broadsheet to Mini, and prices vary – a thousand copies of a traditional tabloid will set you back £518, for example. The added benefit of the Newspaper Club is that it offers its own designing platform, ARTHR, meaning you don’t have to look elsewhere (see below) for your design needs. Connect Cannock Founder Ian Mellett says: “They were really good for what we wanted. I suspect there may be cheaper places that do larger batch runs, but without knowing much about the printing process etc they felt a little more guided towards amateurs like me.” 

Other community journalists have used traditional newspaper presses for their printing, such as Trinity Mirror Printers. Richard Gurner of the Caerphilly Observer decided to go for this option as other alternatives proved too expensive and logistically too problematic. With the printers based in Cardiff, Richard is able to collect his fortnightly 10,000 print run the morning after completing the design of the paper.

Both Richard Gurner and Rachel Howells recommend shopping around for the best printing quote. Rachel uses a local print broker, Xpedient, to ensure she’s getting the best price for her print. It doesn’t only keep your costs low, but, Rachel explains, it can save you time too: “They can often find the best price – you just give them your required specification. We did shop around, but found the print broker gave us the best price.” Rachel’s print run costs around £1,100 for 20,000 copies, which also indicates the savings you can make when buying in bulk.


issue4pickup3This image of a car boot stuffed with editions of the Port Talbot Magnet will be familiar to many community journalists who run a print edition. Often the editor of the newspaper wears several hats: journalist, salesperson and delivery driver…

Richard Gurner says that distribution is the second most important aspect of producing your own newspaper (after getting it printed to deadline), so don’t leave it as an afterthought. There are lots of elements to think through, explains Richard: “Where is the newspaper going to go? Door-to-door? In shops, newsagents etc? How is it going to get there? What’s the most efficient delivery route? These are all things to think about well before you get the first edition out.”

Delivering your newspaper yourself may be the most economical option, and it has the added advantage of enabling you to meet community members and potential advertisers, as Richard Gurner attests to. You could also invite community members to volunteer to distribute your paper, as the Grangetown News team have done. They asked volunteers to deliver to their own street, which was a small enough ask to be realistic.

You also have to think about whether you want to deliver to households or to notable public places, as per the Edinburgh Reporter. If you do decide to deliver to households, you should be able to obtain data on numbers of households per street from your local council. In terms of attracting advertising , you may want to publicly list the outlets your publication is available from, or the postcodes you target.

Rachel of the Port Talbot Magnet recommends a mixture of self-delivery and professional distribution. Rachel delivers ‘bundles’ of newspapers to key locations across Port Talbot, including doctors surgeries and cafes, and the team also hand out newspapers at the local shopping centre. For door-to-door distribution, the Port Talbot Magnet uses a local distributor who delivers 17,0000 newspapers to addresses in the area within 6-10 days, and sends photos of newspapers being delivered.

Rich Coulter agrees that reliable distribution is key: “Make sure your distribution network is effective and conduct spot checks to make sure lazy deliverers are not dumping copies in the nearest skip.” He also recommends overprinting to allow for enough copies for door-to-door and public pick-ups.

And if you want to go a step beyond, you could even get yourself a branded delivery van, a la Caerphilly Observer!

Keep a record

The British Library are keeping an archive of hyperlocal publications. Get in touch with Luke McKernan to find out more, and ensure your hyperlocal newspaper is recorded for posterity. If you want to complete the circle from digital to print, you can also upload your newspaper to Issuu to share online.

Are you a print community news publication with some tips to share? Let us know by tweeting @C4CJ.

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