Left-leaning online magazine The Lead is to launch ten local weekly newsletters in towns and cities in the North of England after a “significant” six-figure investment.
The campaigning title is also growing its full-time staff from three to five and says it aims to substantially grow its pool of freelances.
The Lead, which launched in autumn last year, describes itself as “an issue-led start-up publication that focuses on pressing social topics facing the UK”.
Its creation and expansion has been funded by Mike Harris, the magazine’s owner and also owner of advocacy-oriented communications firm 89up. The Lead says Harris, a former head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, committed a six-figure sum in 2023 and has recommitted in 2024 with another six figures.
‘There are so many stories and struggles in the North that deserve coverage’
Until now The Lead has been nationally focused, writing from a London headquarters on topics including racism, climate and austerity.
But on Wednesday the title said it will establish a Northern hub staffed by Ed Walker – a former editor and audience and content director at local publishing giant Reach – and former Lancs Live and Curiously editor Luke Beardsworth. Walker takes on the title Lead editor (North) and Beardsworth will be senior editor (north).
Only four of the ten newsletter locations they will oversee have so far been announced: Blackpool, Bolton, Teesside and Stoke-on-Trent.
The Lead national editor Dimi Reider said in a statement: “After nearly 15 years of Tory misrule, the North is perhaps the worst-hit, and the most hopeful, defiant and dynamic region in England…
“But there are so many stories and struggles in the North that deserve coverage and campaigning in their own right, by and for the communities that live them. This is why we’re not merely appointing a correspondent or allocating a budget for stories about the North: we are setting up a parallel, autonomous newsroom in the North that’ll work in equal partnership with the London team.”
As well as Reider, the London team includes senior editor (national) Natalie Morris and partnerships editor Leah Borromeo.
Walker, who set up hyperlocal title Blog Preston and previously edited Reach‘s In Your Area service, told Press Gazette: “There’s great coverage already of the [daily] cut-and-thrust of Blackpool or Stoke-on-Trent. But that weekly approach is something that’s sometimes missing [from the offering]… Actually taking time to dig a bit deeper into something – that’s where newsletters can be really strong.”
‘There’s a big challenge around what the future of journalism is in towns’
As well as longer-form local news, The Lead says it wants “to bring out the stories and issues that matter to these communities, and to amplify campaigns for change”.
Content from the newsletters will be periodically bundled together as special edition print newspapers to be distributed in the areas they cover. The outlet hopes to circulate 100,000 papers in the first half of 2024 – although Walker said they would be “effectively a marketing and promotional vehicle for the newsletters”.
Explaining the launch location choices, Walker said it was “important to look at local journalism away from the big cities”.
“I think there’s a there’s a big challenge around what the future of journalism is in towns – it was actually being discussed at the NCTJ [Equality, Diversity and Inclusion] conference last week.
“Your Manchesters, your Birminghams, etcetera have got pretty vibrant publishing communities. What happens outside of [those] is more challenging. So it’s a good place for us to first launch into.”
Another newsletter-led longform local publisher, Mill Media, announced last month it was launching its fourth title, the Birmingham Dispatch, following investment from figures including new CNN boss Mark Thompson. Its other titles are in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield.
Walker emphasised that The Lead is looking for pitches and introductions from freelance writers in Bolton, Blackpool, Teesside and Stoke-on-Trent – particularly in light of widespread cuts that have recently hit local news publishers.
Email email@example.com to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog