The Leveller Group
Using three sister titles with a common core of content, in 7 years the circulation of our titles (Langport Leveller, Somerton Sentinel and Somerset Leveller) has grown from 1,000 copies to over 9,000 and the size of our editions has increased from 12 pages of A4 to 64. Our first edition ran with 12 advertisements; our September 2017 edition had 145. We are a monthly title and that serves us well, as hopefully we'll explain in a minute.
We say Somerset has been poorly served by local newspapers. Newsprint titles around here don’t look much further than their town boundaries. They are tabloid in look and tabloid in style. Too often “news” coverage simply doesn't ask difficult questions, it is usually written in the passive voice, it rarely dares to express an opinion or challenge what is happening. Often we read pieces that are thinly disguised press releases.
When we launched, our readers told us we were a breath of fresh air. That doesn't necessarily mean they agreed with every word we said, but they enjoyed a challenging and interesting read.
What The Leveller titles do:
- Publish three free, printed monthly A4 newspapers of at least 64 pages
- Write local news and in-depth features.
- Hold those in power to account, from Parish Councils to MPs.
- Provide features about the area and the region that give real colour and untold stories about Somerset’s life and culture as well as first rate “what’s on” coverage.
- Emphasise real reporting and unique stories, rather than generic content driven by press releases.
- Publish on the 15th of every month. That’s when the shelves are empty because every other monthly title publishes on the 1st! So people see our papers.
- Make them stand out even more by using black and white as our brand. All our rivals use colour extensively. We use colour inside the paper, but the front is always black and white.
A word about names
The company that owns our papers is Even Handed Licensing Limited. All it does is publishing. The papers that it runs are referred to throughout the material relating to this project (The Langport Leveller, The Somerset Leveller and The Somerton Sentinel). But we don't want you to feel there is something sinister or untoward if you see the name Even Handed Licensing on any statements or corres relating to a contribution to our project.
What is the money for?
For the past 7 years we have grown by investing all our surplus in expanding our circulation and growing market share. But....
We now have a massive opportunity. Our rivals printed newspaper circulations are collapsing (our video shows a graph of the official ABC figures published for their circulations for two of our rivals). We want to jump in there grab the readers who are looking for an alternative and really ramp up our circulation. Everywhere we go we seem to find people who want the paper who can’t get hold of it. We can significantly increase our circulation with extra financial help.
We have writers who want to write for us, and these are top notch journalists. We believe this is a direct result of the decline of our rivals. We could expand our team with the right funds.
We want to grab these opportunities now and get people into the habit of reading and enjoying our papers. If we use our usual model of letting ad revenue growth pay for each phase of expansion, we would lose out on this opportunity.
Of course we could do a traditional funding and issue shares to venture capitalists, angel investors or fund managers. We believe this is a very investable opportunity. BUT…. investors mean new shareholders and influence and that means we would lose our independence. Everything that is fresh and vital in what we do could get compromised.
So this is it. We want to see if enough of you out there are able and willing to help us seize the moment.
We know once we have significantly increased circulation, ad revenues will grow, they always have done and they always will. That will secure our future beyond this funding round.
But right now we need a minimum of £5,000 and can use up to £20,000 to realise our ambitions. Our papers can really change the face of local journalism in a big way.
That money will:
- increase our circulation across the county significantly.
- allow us to purchase and install dump bins in more outlets
- help us pay to hire part time staff to hand papers out in town centres.
- allow us to overhaul our website to promote the paper and upgrade our online news feed.
- hire at least one of the journalists looking to work for
- enable us to fund projects which involve young people and students working for us to gain experience and potentially join our paper in due course. We see part of our role as promoting local employment.
The amount that we can do, depends basically on whether we end up above £5,000 and then beyond that if we are closer to £5,000 or £20,000
Our work has had a big impact on our readers and the community we serve. We add colour and information about our county for the benefit of its residents. These are just a handful of examples of what we do:
- Campaigning during the floods of 2012-14 we were the first newspaper to discover all the Environment Agencies dredgers had been sold off.
- We campaigned tirelessly for a solution for Somerset and are continuing to raise the issue of funding for the recently formed Somerset Rivers Authority.
- We broke the story (3 weeks ahead of the BBC which had it headlining the 1 o’clock news) that Somerset could not provide free hot school meals, at the launch of the government policy to do just that.
- We have written extensively about Local Authorities’ abuse of “commercial in confidence” to hide the truth about their spending.
- We have interviewed characters from politics and the arts, including the Leader of Somerset County Council, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, public art creator Gordon Young, local potters John Leach and Nick Rees, MPs David Warburton and James Heappey and Richard Kay, art expert from auctioneers Lawrences.
- We support the work of Langport based charity bibic and have provided free copy and /or coverage for other charities.
Our readers agree…. We have a 14 page archive of unsolicited one-liners from readers praising our work. Among them are the following:
- Orlando Murrin (columnist with BBC Good Food, Cosmopolitan, former editor of Woman and Home) “how MARVELLOUS your paper is, it is an example of what a local paper can and should be.”
- Lindsay Clarke (Novelist and Whitbread Prize winner) “I'd be very happy to do an interview for your excellent newspaper”
- Pippa Goldfinger, (Mayor of Frome) I'm wondering whether it's possible to access the excellent article by Hattie Bowler on the Precept ('It's not exactly fraud but....', 15th March 2013). It's the best explanation of the complicated (& outrageous!) changes to the precept that I have read.”
- James and Kate Lynch (Artists) “This message is from us both: we think your writing is really great”
- Alan Hurford (Chair of Bridgwater Town Football Club) “A very interesting read - took me all the way to London on the train!”
- David Fothergill (Leader of Somerset County Council) "I have every respect for you publication and always enjoying reading it even if I don’t always agree with some of the content!
Will a newspaper work when so many are dying?
It is true that tabloid format newspapers are in steep decline across the country. Our tabloid rival the Western Gazette has seen its circulation slump from an ABC of 29,184 in 2010 to just 15,111 for 2016.
They say the internet is eating their lunch. We say: those papers whose front pages feature a big picture, a 100-point headline and a soundbite paragraph are doing exactly what internet news, and BBC internet news in particular - does so much better. Without web offset presses to mangle the colour picture, and the backlighting you get from electronic devices, pictures look amazing online and the content of online news is exactly the sort of soundbites you can easily digest.
On the other hand.....
Private Eye had a record circulation in 2015. The Economist, New Statesman and Spectator are all flourishing. What they have in common is analysis and reflection. They don’t depend on the immediacy of daily news and can focus on more cerebral content. Nothing about their content is tabloid. Pictures are not a major part of their content (excepting the cartoons in Private Eye!). Longer and more wordy articles do not work well online. Many readers will print them off and read them later rather than read them online.
A pattern is emerging in which people take their news on two different platforms. When people want to know instantly what is going on - the daily news; instant, superfast, up to date - they take it from the internet. When they want to know why, increasingly they are turning to the more reflective articles in news magazines or in fortnightly or monthly titles.
Remember where I started this piece? In 7 years the circulation of our titles (Langport Leveller, Somerton Sentinel and Somerset Leveller) has grown from 1,000 copies to over 9,000 and the size of our editions has increased from 12 pages of A4 to 64.
At The Leveller we believe there is a future for newspapers, but only those that adapt to modern realities.
We are also fighting back against the dumbing down of information and opinion.
Instant is not always either good or right.
We can do the things that the internet doesn’t do well.