Nub News is a digital-only hyperlocal news platform that aims to fill in the gaps left behind by the demise of traditional local newspapers in towns across the UK.
“We’re trying to replicate what newspapers were 25 years ago – a proper town-centric approach to local news, albeit we’re online rather than in print,” said founder and chief executive Karl Hancock.
Nub News officially launched in September 2018, with its first hyperlocal websites – serving the towns of Honiton, Exmouth and Sidmouth – going live in January 2019. Since then it has grown to cover 68 towns across the UK, including Metropolitan areas such as London.
Hancock said the arrival of the internet disrupted local news publishing by replacing a local-centric approach with a product-centric one, but the tide has turned back.
“That’s the mega trend that we’re capturing…” he said, pointing to people now working from home – a major theme of the pandemic – and caring about their local high street.
“We don’t care about clicks really, we care about the people in our towns… we know the people that come onto our websites in our towns either work, live in or love their town – and that’s it.”
The former City banker said the “closure, consolidation and regionalisation (covering increasingly broader areas)” of local news, and the resulting “vacuum”, is the reason why he created Nub News.
“I see 700 towns across the UK where there’s an opportunity for Nub News to go in,” he said, but where a town is already sufficiently covered by local media Nub News will not aim to muscle in.
It has also provided a source of genuine journalism to replace the gossipy local groups on Facebook, which Hancock said are the “polar opposite” of Nub News, although he said the social network had been “a great acquisition tool” in terms of building a profile with readers. “We could not have done what we’d have done without Facebook,” he said.
|What is it?||Hyperlocal news platform covering 68 UK towns|
|Where is it available?||Online|
|How much does it cost readers?||Free to access|
|Audience size?||800k unique users and 2.3m page views across the platform (own figures for March 2021)|
|Number of journalists?||32, with plans to expand further|
How it works
An editorial team of 32 full-time, salaried journalists – all fully qualified – works across the Nub News hyperlocal sites, each one covering at least one town in the UK. Some journalists cover more than one town, but the platform aims for one to cover one or two towns each.
They work alone as local editors, but Nub News is looking to hire a head of communities to oversee and support them. While it began aggregating content from local titles when it launched, Nub News now only publishes original reporting. All its content is free to access.
Show me the money
Nub News relies on three sources of revenue: sponsorship, client campaigns and job adverts. Rather than selling programmatic display ads, Nub News offers ad space on articles to its sponsors, who are typically local businesses. “We’re bringing back local businesses to advertising again in local papers. They’ve all disappeared because the local paper wasn’t that good…” explained Hancock.
It is running a campaign with Co-Op, Co-Op Community, to highlight the supermarket chain’s work in the community, for example, and charges for job ads as newspapers used to do.
Nub News is currently loss-making, but is looking to break even by 2024.
“Once we get to breakeven, i.e covering the costs of the journalists, we know we’ve made it, because the brand just gets bigger [from there]… and that’s really what we want to get to,” said Hancock.
The site raised nearly £2m from up to 15 investors at launch.
Hancock said he would consider a small fee subscription model in future, but the platform is “not there yet”. “You can make local news pay by making it good quality,” he said.
“We’ve got to get to the point where it is proper premium quality, not press releases. What I say to my journalists is: ‘I want good quality, local unique articles about your town.’
“If we get that right, at some point in the future we may be able to charge for it. We won’t be able to charge for the latest press release from the council… we try to avoid that…
“But I say to my journalists: ‘70% of your time should be writing unique quality [content].’” He added: “It’s about quality at the end of the day. People are only going to pay for quality. And if you tell them to pay for local news now, I don’t think they will.”
Making local news pay in the digital space is a challenge still troubling the news industry. While Nub News may not offer the newsroom environment that is still a vital part of journalism training, among other things, it is one of the few local publishers to be hiring journalists in recent years.
It offers a place for the “unnewsed” – those disenfranchised by the loss of a local title and living in one of the country’s many news “gaps” – to find free, quality local journalism outside of the echo chambers and “fake news” traps of social media.
If it continues to grow in size, it may become a viable commercial enterprise in its own right, providing a model for others to perhaps follow.