North West Enquirer: the end of a dream

The dream of a weekly region-wide newspaper which would "stand on the quality of its reporting" and pay journalists a decent wage was this week shattered as The North West Enquirer went into administration after just 21 issues.

Those behind the Enquirer project believed the region-wide quality weekly paper, stretching across Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire, had the potential to capture a slice of a 1.3 million affluent readership.

But the paper's 26 members of staff were called together at 2pm on Tuesday and were told the paper — which launched in April — was out of money. They were told one of the backers had changed the terms of his £200,000 financial package, leaving the Enquirer with no choice but to go into administration.

Editor Bob Waterhouse, who also launched the ill-fated quality broadsheet North West Times in 1988, said he would not continue his involvement with the paper.

"We were doing the right sort of things, but it just takes a long time to establish a venture such as this and it does take deep pockets. There is a market, but getting established in a niche always takes time.

"I'm very sad, not just for me but for all the staff and freelances who have helped make it such a great paper."

A couple of parties have expressed an interest in the company, according to managing director Nick Jaspan, but the administrators have not begun any talks. Last month the Enquirer made senior editorial redundancies and cut freelance budgets in order to save £250,000 demanded by investors.

The launch came at a time when many of the major regional publishers were shedding jobs and cutting budgets. Sales of the Enquirer had dipped below the target of 15,000-20,000 to 12,000.

Jaspan told Press Gazette: "What we were trying to do was very ambitious, launching a middle-class paper in what has historically been a downmarket regional press. That takes time.

"I was surprised by the ad agencies. They are a conservative beast, they hold on to their wallets and wait. The fact that our head of sales left us a few weeks before launch hurt us. Ironically we had sorted that out, we had a very good new commercial director, ad revenues were doubling.

"For September and October the ad revenues were picking up nicely and the losses would have been manageable, but we did need extra funding for December and January."

Associate editor Rachael Campey added: "I think that anyone who has been associated with the paper has been very proud of it. I think all of us believe in the concept and have admired the courage of Bob and Nick to set it up in very difficult circumstances and a very competitive environment.

But we believe there is a niche here to work on both the paper and online.

"I believe somewhere in terms of journalism and newspapers and the whole media, there is a niche for this kind of concept. I don't think it's ended today."

John Sallaband, a partner in Harrisons, which is expected to act as administrator for the Enquirer, said: "There's one problem and one problem alone: lack of capital. A new start business like this, particularly a newspaper, is very cash hungry.

"Advertising revenues weren't as projected and neither was circulation in the early days. Hence the directors were seeking more and more capital."

Staff who have lost their jobs will have to claim statutory pay from the Government and are not entitled to redundancy, because the paper lasted only five months.

Danny Lockwood, who launched the Dewsbury & District Press, has always believed that the Enquirer had a flawed business plan. He and Bob Waterhouse have clashed in the pages of Press Gazette.

Lockwood said: "I feel really sorry for the journalists who committed to a very ambitious project, and who find themselves out of work.

"Despite Bob Waterhouse and I indulging in verbal knockabout over the Enquirer, I really wanted it to work for his and all his staff's sake. It's just a great shame, for so many people, that it didn't."

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