Newspaper run by volunteers undercuts Hastings Observer to win lucrative council advertising contract

A community-run fortnightly free newspaper in Hastings has taken the lucrative contract to run council public notice advertising from established local title the Hastings Observer.

Such notices are estimated by thinktank LCiU to be worth up to £70m a year to the UK local press. They are part of a legal requirement on the part of local authorities to advertise information like planning decisions.

The Hasting Independent was launched three years ago by a group of residents who were unhappy about the coverage of the Hastings Observer.

The last time it was audited by ABC, in 2010, the Johnston Press-owned Observer had a paid-for circulation of 32,000 across Hastings, Battle, Rye and Bexhill.

The Hastings Independent, which was launched three years ago, claims a free distribution of 7,500 left at 100 distribution points around the town.

Director Jon Dunham said his title was able to undercut the Advertiser on the cost of running public notices because it employs no journalists and no other full-time staff. The title is entirely run by volunteers.

He did however say that professional journalists write for his title on a voluntary basis and that it provides work experience opportunities for people to enter the profession.

He said the title is a mix of local, national and international news with a left-wing political stance. Hastings Borough Council is currently controlled by the Labour Party.

Dunham declined to reveal how much the council ads contract was worth, but he said that it would cover one third of the newspaper’s production costs.

A spokesperson for Hastings Borough Council said that the advertising was put out to tender and the Hastings Independent was the most competitive bid. They said some public notices could still be placed with the Observer on occasions when its weekly distribution is more appropriate.

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