The newspaper industry is a shadow of its former self. Increased competition from the internet and pressure from the balace sheet have put many well-loved titles to bed.
But here Paul Wood, Managing Director of the UK’s only employee owned newspaper – West Highland Free Press – argues one solution is being overlooked that could save the local British press…
Many of us in the media industry have watched, horrified, as titles that were once part of the community’s fabric have either vanished or become shadows of their former selves.
So what? Should we care about the demise of the local rag? We should. There is no better mechanism to truly connect readers and give voice to the hopes, fears and aspirations of a community than a local newspaper.
We found a solution that reconnects journalists with their local communities and offers a sustainable business model to secure the future of this valuable service. And it is one I believe can help others. It’s called employee ownership and is a business model whose time has very much in the spotlight and championed by Nick Clegg as we move towards ‘a John Lewis economy.’
Of course I am a champion too as I am the owner of the UK’s only employee owned newspaper.
But that means I can offer insight – a local, trusted voice if you like – on how this works for newspapers and is relevant to papers of all sizes.
Without being sensationalist, it is a simple, compelling human-interest story – align individual success with the company’s success and you get a highly motivated workforce.
This may sound radical, ludicrous I hear some of you shout, but in fact it provides ever journalist with a stability and motivation – which is slipping away throughout the industry day by day.
This innovative approach puts employees at the heart of their companies, making them shareholders, incentivising workers, share the rewards and success – whatever the field.
Let me break it down on how it works for us: The West Highland Free Press was founded in 1972 and became employee owned in 2009. Based on the Island of Skye, the paper has played a vital role in keeping a disparate local community connected, informed and engaged.
From the beginning the paper formed an enviable reputation for quality, hard-hitting, campaigning journalism as well as a keen sense of how a local newspaper should represent and serve its local community.
We campaigned on land reform, community ownership of assets, renewable energy and the resurgence of the Gaelic language. And there is much work still to be done.
So against this backdrop we decided in 2009 the best way to secure our future was to own ourselves! We called in the services of Co-operative Development Scotland to guide us through the process.
And the results? Well, we are still here and still thriving. The move kept the newspaper firmly rooted in the community it serves, secured its long-term future and legacy through practising what it so passionately preached, and importantly, kept the newspaper independent and out of the hands of many of the larger and circling publishers.
At the West Highland Free Press we have proved you do not have to be a corporate giant to be successful.
What counts is well researched, well written content reflecting the needs of your readership. What better way of doing that than through a company independently and locally owned by members of that same community?
I would encourage editors, journalists and publishers alike to give serious consideration to employee ownership as a way forward.
Our newspaper has flourished and I believe other titles would do so too if they got back to basics and saw their communities as something to represent and nurture, rather than a resource to maximise profit.
Paul is also an Employee Ownership Ambassador with Co-operative Development Scotland and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0) 1471 822464
Co-operative Development Scotland is a Scottish Enterprise subsidiary, established to help companies grow by setting up consortium, employee-owned and community businesses. It works in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise.