A free newspaper is being launched on the Isle of Wight to attract readers who may have felt “disheartened” by Newsquest’s buyout of 134-year-old title the Isle of Wight County Press.
The Isle of Wight Observer has emerged in response to the “gap in the market” created by the takeover, according to news editor Joe Burn.
Newsquest, which is owned by US publisher Gannett, acquired the Isle of Wight County Press in July last year despite fears that the “island institution” would lose its affinity with the area under the “media giant”.
Four months after its takeover of the independent County Press, Newsquest asked staff at the title to apply for voluntary redundancy.
The Observer is edited by co-owners Martin Potter and Carole Dennett. Potter also owns Tiger Media, which has published Isle of Wight magazine Island Life for 15 years and last year launched new title The Islander.
Potter told Press Gazette he wanted to bring back an island-owned newspaper after the sale of the independent County Press to Newsquest, but said he didn’t see them as direct rivals.
“They have got a formula and it has been very successful,” he said of the title. “Competition is healthy and its good for everyone – it’s good for advertisers and readers and for the publishers.
“For the past 134 years the Isle of Wight County Press has been the only substantial newspaper on the island and we are trying to provide an alternative to it, not compete with it.”
Burn told Press Gazette Potter and his team used their experience in producing printed media products for the Isle of Wight, with “island contacts and island knowledge”, to set up the Observer.
Burn said: “They just felt that [the County Press] website hadn’t really moved with the times and that the people on the island were getting slightly disheartened with the paper and that there might be an audience for a new one now,” he said.
“So they decided to come out with one and make it a free product with a modern website made for the island by people who live on the island and the profits will remain on the island.”
Launching in print on 10 August, the Observer will be distributed for free in up to 250 outlets across the Isle of Wight from newsagents to local pubs.
The County Press has a 90p cover price and a circulation of 23,006 according to the latest ABC figures from July to December last year.
The Isle of Wight is also served for news by the Island Echo, Isle of Wight Radio and the On The Wight blog.
The Observer will stand out by “spending a bit more time on things that matter to [people]”, Burn said.
“I was a bit concerned about [the market] being saturated, but I don’t think so anymore because I think Isle of Wight Radio have got a very strong identity in what they do, On the Wight does as well,” he added.
“The County Press is obviously the traditional arm and then the Island Echo concentrates on more blue light incidents rather than in-depth local issue coverage with people at the heart of it, which is what we’re trying to do.
“We’re trying to do something different here. We are trying to compete online with everyone else, with breaking news, because we are a news organisation, but I think the printed product, at least the first five to seven pages, will focus more on hard news, local issues and investigations.”
Burn joined Trinity Mirror’s Get Surrey (both since renamed to Reach and Surrey Live respectively) as a trainee reporter last autumn and has almost a year’s worth of newsroom experience.
A job advert for a journalist at the Observer had called for five years’ experience, but Burn said he was contacted directly with the job offer.
He said the Observer’s online strategy would “try and do something different” alongside breaking news.
“[We will] try and get to know people and report stories that matter to them and get eyes on the content and get people engaging with it for longer and do something a bit more digitally-forward thinking than what you might find on a Newsquest website.
“And just try and compete in a quality way using skills I learned from working with Trinity Mirror really, just trying to be multi-media focused and try and give people something they want to spend a lot of time on the page with and keep coming back,” he said.
Burn said he had been unable to resist the opportunity to try his hand at launching a newspaper, adding that he still believes in print.
“I just thought perhaps nobody will call me up ever again and say ‘would you like to start a new newspaper?’” he said. “So I thought ‘let’s try it’ and now I’m here I’m feeling really positive about it.
“We’ve been getting a lot of really positive reaction from people, people are really excited about it, they’re writing in to us [saying] ‘where can I get it, when can I pick it up’, and they’re engaging with us online.”
Burn is part of a small team in the newsroom comprising an online editor Sandy Clarke, a freelance sports writer Peter White, a second freelancer mostly writing features, and a photographer John Sheath, while there are plans to hire an apprentice journalist.
The newspaper will be solely funded by revenue from print and online advertising. It is regulated by Impress.
Picture: Joe Burn