The UK capital is getting a new newsletter that its founder, freelance journalist Marie Le Conte, hopes will “bring the magic back into London living”.
The Substack launch comes despite growing criticism of the over-centralisation of journalism in the capital, as Le Conte (pictured) believes that current coverage of the capital isn’t “written for normal Londoners” leaving room for more authentic magazine-style writing about the capital from smaller outlets.
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Called The Roost for the Benjamin Disraeli quote “London is a roost for every bird”, the newsletter will share stories about London by Londoners.
“I think in an ideal world the mainstream press would focus a lot more on the bits of Britain that are not London. That is where I think something like The Roost would help,” Le Conte, a former Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, tells Press Gazette.
“We Londoners resentfully recognise that the rest of the country does not care about us as much as we care about ourselves. So we can do our own thing to the side and we can have a national press that properly covers stuff nationally,” as she explains it. “Newspapers and national magazines do tend to cover quite a bit of what happens in London, but that’s very much done for a national audience. The idea for The Roost is it’s almost like a very small magazine that happens to only publish four pieces a month.”
Each week, starting on 9 June, The Roost will deliver its paid Substack subscribers a new 1,000-word feature on some part of London culture, written by the city’s long list of freelance journalists and edited by Le Conte.
“Our tagline is interesting writing about London. And that is purposely very vague because I like the idea of people not knowing what they’re going to get,” explains Le Conte.
She also decided it should not produce “excessive” amounts of content: “People like curated content on the internet… I feel a bit overwhelmed if I just use a newspaper’s website to read something because I have so many options I don’t end up clicking on anything.”
From illegal horse riding in the city and love letters to London estate agents to illegal Bhangra raves in northwest London and local politics in Tower Hamlets, the topics The Roost is set to cover certainly are ones you would struggle to find elsewhere. That eclectic approach is what Le Conte hopes will set The Roost apart from other London outlets like the Evening Standard or MyLondon, which she says feel at times like they aren’t “written for normal Londoners” and focus too much on reporting news.
The idea for the publication first came in the summer of 2021 as Soho’s roads were pedestrianised and filled with restaurant seating.
“I thought it was really interesting because it had nearly rewritten the social geography of London… and I wanted to write a piece about it”, she says. “And then it kind of occurred to me that there was nowhere really to pitch that piece.”
But why Substack? “People have for the most part lost the habit to check a website every couple of days,” she says. “Most places and people who tried to launch something in the past couple of years without having a massive budget and massive newsroom behind it only did so via Substack.”
The Roost’s launch is being supported by an investor friend of Le Conte’s, Dmitry Grozoubinski who founded the consultancy ExplainTrade. That funding means for the first month The Roost will be free for all, before becoming 50% paywalled by the second month and then almost entirely subscriber-only the month after that.
In those few months, The Roost will need to hit its minimum goal of several hundred paying subscribers (each contributing £6 a month) to be able to continue publishing after Grozoubinski’s funding runs out.
If around 200 more people sign up than that minimum level, Le Conte plans to introduce an extra monthly long-read with a final stretch goal to introduce a second weekly feature. If it gets big enough, Le Conte has even pledged to organise a Eurovision contest for London’s 32 boroughs.
“It’s like a pyramid scheme, but good,” Le Conte tells me. “The more of your friends you convince to become paid subscribers, the more bang you’ll get for your buck.”
All those growth goals are below the 1,000 paid subscribers mark. What happens if it grows beyond that and she no longer has to run The Roost on “bits of shoestring and chewing gum”?
A dedicated website is “under consideration”, Le Conte says, while everything from bringing in a subeditor and commissioning original photography to running events for the Roost community and hiring a bi-monthly cheeseburger correspondent is on the agenda. But the actual amount of content produced is unlikely to change.
As Le Conte explains it, she saw first-hand working at Buzzfeed as a politics and media reporter how new media brands could grow far beyond their means. “They kept expanding and expanding and expanding and then either they collapsed or they started publishing what was unashamedly just filler because they were chasing clicks,” she says. “I worked in these newsrooms, and I did not have a nice time. And I’m not convinced readers enjoyed what they were writing.”
“I love London with all my heart,” she adds “But I’m not convinced there are more than 12 really good pieces you could write about it every month.”
Picture: Marie Le Conte