A Voice for Local People
Some might say that running a free weekly newspaper and making a profit is not possible these days. Stephen Rodgers, founder and managing editor of The Week In would disagree.
When your letters page is over-flowing with comment and reaction of commendable quality you can reasonably say that you’ve become a voice for local people. The Week In, a free weekly paper with an estimated readership of 30,000 in East Bristol and North East Somerset, is just that. Managing editor, Stephen Rodgers says: “Our readers have taken ownership of the paper. I feel that if people treat it like it’s theirs, we’ve done what we set out to do.”
Starting in 2007 as a monthly publication, Rodgers took the bold step of moving to a weekly paper just a year later. “It sets us apart and it means we can be truly news-led,” he says.
Rodgers is about to send issue number 434 to print. “The first 300 editions hurt if I’m honest, it was me and a very small team producing upwards of 10,000 words a week but, knowing that our readers viewed it as their weekly briefing was a huge motivator for me. People look out for it in local supermarkets, pubs and shops; we’ve built a reputation for reporting straight news, we let our readers decide and the credibility has built from there.”
It was not always like this, as whilst The Week In has been profitable since its second year, a loyal and committed readership has taken longer. Rodgers says: “Over the years we’ve covered stories that are important to people here. If the Council cuts the subsidy for local bus routes we hold them to account. When Bath and North East Somerset Council made the decision to relocate the leisure centre but only include a swimming pool in the new facility, our reporting of the issue helped to give voice to public opinion. The Council listened and took local sentiment on board; they admitted that they had not sensed the public vibe. We will be the first to praise them when they get it right.”
The Week In has played its role in social issues too. In East Bristol anti-social behaviour was causing concern and many people felt that the police and the Council were not taking sufficient action. When the paper ran several stories on the problem, the response from the police and the council was more support and patrols. Rodgers says: “I guess the police read us too!”
When it comes to regulation, Rodgers sees being a member of IMPRESS as another stage in the publication’s maturity. He says: “If we can’t lay ourselves open to scrutiny we shouldn’t be here. Public perception - our public face - is critical to our success. We have only had two cases in seven years that could have escalated but belonging to an organisation like IMPRESS is a symbol that we will adhere to a set of standards and that is something our readers will appreciate.”
The Week In is funded entirely through selling advertising space. Rodgers explains: “We’ve arrived at this point through lots of hard work over the past eight years. A large number of advertisers have been with us since 2008. It’s a loyal base with 45-50% of our business booked for the whole year and around 15% of our customers have been with us in every issue since we started.”