No grants and no VC funding, how a quality local news project is working in Manchester

Future News 83 

‘Sustainability’ is the watchword for Joshi Herrmann. He’s probably best known in UK news media circles for his three-year stint as editor-in-chief at The Tab, the digital tabloid network aimed at and written by university students across Britain and the US. Herrmann has since left London, gone home to Sussex and then relocated to the North West of England where he launched The Manchester Mill last June to serve the unofficial second-city of the UK. 

“It’s been a good decision because it’s a huge city with a huge city region, which effectively has just one large newspaper in the [Reach-owned] Manchester Evening News,” he told FN. “There’s much less journalism per-head compared to London. There’s also a yearning for a different type of writing and reporting in local news, a type of journalism that concerns itself with thoughtfulness and depth.” 

It’s a bold move for Herrmann, who unveiled the project during a pandemic and only had a couple of university friends (he went to Cambridge) based in Manchester. Other than that, his main link to the city was his football club, Manchester United.

“It was just a personal challenge for me to execute an idea I’ve had for a while,” Herrmann explained. “What if you did high-quality stuff at a local level paid for by subscriptions?” 

The Substack-powered publication is going well so far. The Manchester Mill has 650 paying subscribers at rates of around £7 per month (some sign-ups are discounted), generating annual revenues of more than £40,000. Herrmann only turned on subscriptions in September and now he can pay for himself and a growing network of freelancers. He also has help from a trainee, Dani Cole, who works on the publication once a week. 

Herrmann wants to grow The Manchester Mill organically, rather than seeking funding from venture-capital firms, grants (like those offered by the Google New Initiative) or advertising.

“The fundamental problem in journalism at the moment is sustainability,” he said. “If you raise £100,000 and spend it, you delay the moment when you find out if it’s sustainable or not.” 

The former Evening Standard staffer wants to keep it “really disciplined” for the first year or two, including maintaining a strong focus on his members and doing as much of the editorial work himself.

Those articles – paying subscribers get five per-week at a length of around 1,000 words, while more than 9,000 readers receive a weekly digest and long read – tend to be more narrative and feature-focused and are ultimately intended to “add value” to Greater Manchester’s existing news media ecosystem. 

“We [try to] do something a bit different and exciting,” Herrmann said. The topics include crime, culture and business, although sports is covered when it relates to the culture of the city or has an impact on the community.

Politics is off the table for now since the MEN and other regional outlets provide “great coverage”, according to The Manchester Mill editor. And amid warnings of ‘news deserts’, mass job uncertainty and the BBC narrowing its local news coverage, can the model be replicated across the UK?

“Definitely,” Herrmann, who has set-up a sister title in the shape of The Liverpool Post, said. “I’ve had people write to me from different parts of the country, including Yorkshire and Newcastle. Readers in Liverpool also want this sort of thing...I could imagine every city having a couple of outlets like this.” 

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💼 Jobs and business

  • Canada’s Postmedia saw a revenue dip of more than 25% to $116.9m in the three months to 30 November, with net earnings at $52.8m (compared to a loss of $3.0m in the same period in the prior year). The company said the increase was primarily the result of a non-cash settlement gain related to employee benefit plans of $63.1m.

  • UK journalists are being urged to diversify newsrooms (in class and race terms).

  • Telegraph Media Group posted a £5.7m profit in 2019 (up from £0.7m in 2018).

  • James Murdoch has claimed that the US media has been “propagating lies”

  • Axios has unveiled a ‘Bill of Rights’ ahead of its push into local news.

  • Politico Playbook has a new crew.

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🛡️ Regulation and moderation 

  • Without giving examples, Roger Wicker, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has claimed that social media platforms have silenced “thousands” of conservative users, asking that YouTube, Facebook and Twitter provide “detailed information” of their decision-making processes. 

  • The NYT gives the inside track on how Twitter cut off Trump.

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For high-praise, tips or gripes, please contact the editor at iansilvera@gmail.com or via @ianjsilvera. Follow on LinkedIn here. 

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