UK Publisher Making Money From Local Papers

By: E&P Staff

The founder of Tindle Newspapers tells Matthew Bell how his empire defies the nay-sayers

To get off the train at Farnham and enter the world of Sir Ray Tindle, the 84-year-old owner of 230 local newspaper titles, is to step back in time.

In this parallel universe, there are plenty of jobs for journalists, the ad department phones are always ringing, and, best of all, the public are buying newspapers.

An interview with Sir Ray begins with a tour of the Surrey town’s old police station, now the home of Tindle Newspapers, and a peek at his collection of veteran cars out the back, before settling down either side of a giant partners’ desk to talk business, a bottle of whisky and cut glass tumblers visible in a cabinet behind him. An attack of throat cancer 14 years ago left him with no voicebox, and he has to cover a hole in his throat to speak through a special valve. Nevertheless an hour passes discussing the 15 newspapers he has launched since the downturn, and the £3.5m profit he has made every year since 2008, which enables him to continue sponsoring next weekend’s London to Brighton veteran car run, in which he will take part. Then it’s off for a three-course lunch in the boardroom, served by uniformed staff. What is going on?

If you read the pontifications of Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University, and professor of doom at Media Guardian, local newspapers are dead. The internet’s the thing, the print model doesn’t work, and you might as well call it a day. So how does Sir Ray keep proving Prof Roy so wrong?

The secret to his success, as national papers seek to reach global audiences via the internet, and other local newspapers expand their beats, has been that every Tindle newspaper – most are weekly – has focussed on the minutiae of a single town. It’s called going hyper-local, and, says Sir Ray, is best illustrated with the story of the Tenby Observer.

One morning over breakfast in the 1970s he read that it was about to go under. He telephoned the receivers who said the last edition had been published and staff were clearing their desks. That afternoon Sir Ray was asking them if they wanted another go. They would have to get the paper out in just two days, as against the usual seven, because to miss one issue would, he believed, make a recovery impossible.

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