Interesting news from my old patch today with the announcement of the launch of a new print-first weekly newspaper for Tunbridge Wells, a well-heeled Kentish town whose media landscape is currently dominated by the Local World-owned Kent and Sussex Courier. The decision to launch The Times of Tunbridge Wells with a print focus comes at a time when the march of the local press seems to be almost exclusively towards digital, as evidenced by the decision by Trinity Mirror last year to go online-only in Berkshire.
I was particularly struck – for two reasons – by this quote from Times of Tunbridge Wells editorial director Richard Moore given to the Press Gazette:
The Courier’s main emphasis is online, our main focus will be to provide quality print copy. We will have a more serious news approach and also cover national news.
Firstly, the Courier’s focus on online is a relatively recent development that followed the takeover of the title by Local World and a change in the editor’s chair. The previous editor, who I worked with when I was overseeing the company’s Kent website, always appeared resolutely opposed to online news – so it will be interesting to see if the subsequent shift to a digital-first approach has opened up space in the market for a genuine competitor to the Courier in print.
Secondly, I am curious about the commitment by The Times of Tunbridge Wells to cover national news. I find it hard to see what value a local newsroom – described as ‘the equivalent of four full-time journalists’ – can generate around national stories while at the same time producing a compelling local product. If I was editing a local weekly I’d be sure to prioritise in-depth local reporting rather than taking on national stories which nine times in 10 (and that is probably generous) will be better covered elsewhere. Of course I’d happily be proven wrong – let’s see what the new title has in its locker.
The launch of a new newspaper should always be a cause for celebration, especially for a former hack like myself. It’s fantastic to see people prepared to invest in journalism and create new jobs in an industry that has shed so many in recent years, and competition for Courier in the Tunbridge Wells market can only be a good thing. Best of luck to everyone at The Times of Tunbridge Wells, hopefully you will be able to prove that there’s still plenty of life in the local press yet.