Leeds’s new newspaper: Print is dead, long live print!

The City Talking newspaperYou may have noticed the recent chatter on Twitter that Leeds now has a new monthly newspaper. Heck, you may have even picked one up in the city centre.

It’s the brainchild of those talented folks at Hebe Media. They’re the guys behind the  thecitytalking.com website (which launched less than 12 months ago and is itself a spin-off from a 53,000-strong Facebook page).

They also netted Nesta cash last year to to put together a mobile news app called Solomon, which is launching in May. Solomon will provide people across the city with a way to create, discover and share stories about life in Leeds.

Hebe this week launched its own Made In Leeds fashion shop in the new Trinity Leeds development – check out its promo video:

Busy times indeed!

The citytalking.com website – which underwent a new look to make it more mobile-friendly and a rebranding at the same time as the newspaper launch – is going great guns, with tens of thousands of unique visitors a month and growing. Its rise has been especially phenomenal given the site (and the paper) don’t yet employ any dedicated staff.

The first issue of The City Talking is a 20-page, full colour, tabloid size newspaper. 10,000 copies have been distributed free, primarily in Leeds city centre. The paper focuses on life and style, and includes interviews with fashion designer Henry Holland, legendary Leeds publisher James Brown and Leeds band The Pigeon Detectives. Other pages include features on the history of Burtons, Hebe’s online initiative Leeds Digital Fashion Week and the controversial issue of future of Leeds Kirkgate Market, as well as travel advice from author Shang-Ting Peng.

The City Talking Facebook page was started three years ago by a small group of friends seeking an antidote to what they felt was a weakness in the local media offer: it wasn’t speaking to a young audience. The page very quickly attracted thousands of members.

What’s interesting about The City Talking on all its platforms is its primarily young audience in the 18-34 age group that much of mainstream media would give its right arm to engage with.

Says Lee Hicken of Hebe Media in a recent press release:

“We wanted to chat about things that the local media, speaking frankly, were not talking about.

“We want The City Talking to be a truly multi-platform experience, and mobile and print were always on our agenda. With the launch of our paper we’ve taken the first big step in our plan to make The City Talking THE media space for young people in Leeds. Mobile comes next and then we have our sights set firmly on video.”

The reaction to The City Talking print product, Hicken says, has been very positive. I should, at this stage, declare an interest – I’ve been contributing to thecitytalking.com in my spare time and also wrote for the paper.

When news of the paper’s launch hit Twitter, I was tweeted by someone who followed what I did on my Guardian Leeds days. They felt it was a bold move given the incredible difficulties newspaper companies like Johnston Press (publisher of the YEP) were having. To cut to the chase, they were basically saying ‘why the fuck are you messing about with dead trees when the web’;s the future’.

Well yes, web is the future (and, indeed, the present) for many – but there’s still lots of life in print yet, particularly as a niche product.

It’s a great way of reaching a new audience, pushing readers to other platforms – and of creating a cool new product. The City Talking, with its unique design, certainly gives that. I’d go as far as saying it offers the opportunity to reinvent a print product for a new generation.

And Hebe does like to do the unconventional!

I came across the recent Hyperlocal and happy to be in print post for the BBC’s College of Journalism by Damian Radcliffe which makes interesting reading. While I believe thecitytalking.com is too big to be classed a true hyperlocal, the article raises some interesting points about multi-platform publishing.

He talks about the resilience of print – especially at ultra-local level where print can play a key role in meeting local news and information needs. Radcliffe writes:

HU17.net, Hackney Citizen, Brixton Blog and the York-based One&Other are just some of those who have found that a good print product can attract advertisers, reach
audiences who are not online and give renewed credibility to their web products…

… A key appeal for all of these publishers is the ability to reach audiences who aren’t aware of their digital offer.

Radcliffe also wrote about Why Hyperlocals Should Not Rule Out Print last year.

Sometimes existing media like print just needs someone to come along from outside mainstream media to come along with fresh and vibrant ideas, someone who doesn’t feel they have to follow writing and design convention and who actually wants to go their own unique way with stuff. The last major changes in print came with the advent of free papers run by mainstream media in the 80s.

Perhaps now’s the time for papers like thecitytalking or a revival of Leeds Other Paper? Complementing the digital revolution.

What The City Talking has done has shown that if you have enought vision and determination you can make still print successful.

More advertisers are already lined up for future issues, and once the paper really gets into its stride and starts to develop its own unique editorial voice and attitude then you may just see that start of something powerful and influential in Leeds that will start to challenge existing mainstream media.

Watch this space.

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