08 . 11 . 18

News media: Dig deeper or die

Words by: Print Power
It’s high time newspapers scrapped old-school generalist thinking and found their niche. Something The New European’s Matt Kelly understands all too well
The New European Bloody Idiot (June 9, 2017).jpg

The power of print at a glance:

  • “The place for generality in media is shrinking.” Legacy news brands would be wise to focus on a particular audience or subject matter
  • The subscription model frees newspaper publishers from their loyalties to advertisers and allows them to focus on the content they want to produce
  • Subscription model publishers are good targets for advertisers seeking a loyal, engaged audience

When the EU referendum result hit home in June 2016, an audience emerged that transcended political party lines. The 48%, as Matt Kelly calls them, or the 16.1 million people who voted Remain and lost, were united on an era-defining political issue, and yet there was nothing for them in mainstream media. The New European, of which Kelly is founder and editor, gave them that something.

Kelly, who is also Archant’s chief content officer, shares his unconventional approach to newspaper publishing and suggests that the old guard could learn a thing or two from a title with just 20,000 subscribers.  

Let’s start from the beginning. Why create The New European

We launched the paper for two reasons. First, I was pretty shocked by the referendum result and wanted to make sure there was a place for vigorous debate on the far end of the Remain spectrum. But we also saw a publishing opportunity.

How does your approach differ to that of a traditional newspaper?

Most importantly, we don't think of ourselves as a permanent title. We call it pop-up publishing. In fact we only planned to run four issues to begin with, and said that if there was demand we would continue.

We have very little advertising. We rely totally on subscriptions and circulation revenue, so our cover price is relatively high at £2.50 for a 48-page paper. We’re lucky that because people feel so passionately about the topic, price is not so much of an issue.

The New European Jaws (Apr 21, 2017).jpg

We also have a very different approach to staff. There is just one full-time member on the team. Our designer, political editor, myself and a couple of others who put the paper together all have other jobs at Archant. The writers, illustrators and photographers are all freelance, so the fixed cost base is tiny.

Why does this approach work for you and not the others? 

Because traditional news brands haven't shaken themselves out of old thinking!

They think you have to carry out months of market research on your target audience. You don’t. We launched the paper really quickly – nine days after the vote – and adjusted it once people gave us feedback.

They also think you need a huge marketing budget to launch a new product. But if you get the product right and you’re really clear on who you’re speaking to, the audience do the marketing for you by word of mouth or social media.

Would you say newspapers are hamstrung by their loyalties to advertisers? 

Ten years ago I would have said absolutely not. But these days, yes. I think a lot – not all – editors probably do take advertisers into consideration more often than they would like to. We've got barely any advertisers, so it's not an issue for me!

The New European The Godmother (Mar 10, 2017).jpg

Do you think advertisers should be braver and take a chance on titles like yours? Titles that speak to a much narrower, but more engaged audience?

I wish they would – it would help the business. But I understand why many would be nervous, especially while there's so much doubt around Brexit. But an audience like ours, although relatively small compared to the huge newspapers, is about as passionate as you get – so I think they would be very receptive to advertising from businesses who shared their values.

How do you see news media changing? 

Newspapers are too broad in nature. They appeal to too many people and points of view, because that's what they’ve always done. These days, the place for generality in media is shrinking.

We think Brexit sucks, so we don't bother with the other side of the argument too much. There are plenty of right-wing newspapers in the UK doing that job. Everything now is about specialism, about digging deeper than anyone else on that topic, about having that same passion as your audience. 

What does print media still do so well?

One of the great joys of reading a newspaper or magazine is stumbling across something you didn't realise you were interested in. It's easy for me to produce endless opinion pieces about why Brexit is a disaster. But we make a much deeper emotional connection with our audience when we give them, for example, a great 3,000-word essay on the last days of Jim Morrison in Paris, or a beautifully written obituary in our Great European Lives section on someone they may not have known about.

When you surprise people, when they feel you’ve broadened their horizons, there's a powerful value exchange there. My favourite periodical on the planet, the London Review of Books, does this every issue. I have absolutely no idea what will be in it, but I have never opened an issue that hasn't had at least three long-form articles that have surprised me. That's the magic of print at its best.