A TV producer, a rugby club and and a university are the latest players to try filling a content gap in Neath and Port Talbot, the south Wales towns left without a local newspaper when Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) folded its Neath and Port Talbot Guardians in 2009.
FYI-Neath, the latest in what is now several budding replacement efforts, is due to be launched by former content head Marc Webber’s Dipping Bridge consultancy together with local independent TV producer Telesgop and Neath Rugby Football Club, supported by UTV’s local Swansea Sound and The Wave radio stations.
FYI-Neath, which counts four “staff” from across its partners, will trade on curating content it hopes locals will contribute, rather than producing much of its own. “We’re not trying to own the content – we’re trying to create an umbrella,” Webber tells paidContent.
The site will include articles written by council clerks, local politicians and stringers who once submitted their material to the Guardian, and will pull planning applications and council minutes from Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council.
Although Northcliffe’s South Wales Evening Post goes on covering Neath and Port Talbot within its wider central south-west Wales patch, the towns specifically are now lacking dedicated providers. But FYI-Neath is not alone in attempting to fill online the gap left by the Guardian in print. Others include Neath Ferret, Neath Community News, defunct council-funded newspaper Community Spirit, now-redundant Port Talbot News (launched by a former Guardian photographer), the Port Talbot aggregator and Port-Talbot.com.
Another, Port Talbot Magnet, was launched in 2010 by a voluntary, 20-member co-operative comprising
four eight professional journalists operating as a social enterprise, Local News South Wales Ltd. One of those is Rachel Howells, a PhD student who has been funded by Cardiff University not just to research the effect on a town of a newspaper’s disappearance but to actively try building a digital alternative.
Where FYI-Neath wants to take on content through syndication and voluntary submissions, Port Talbot Magnet promises freelance journalists a “fair fee” for contributions – something which places greater onus on finding a working commercial model. What all the sites have in common, however, is a focus on magazine-like, sports, entertainment and features content above hard news exposes or investigations. But how can such things be funded? Howells greets the question with laughter…
As well as donations, Howells is asking between £30 ($46.9) and £50 ($78.19) per month respectively for side and top web banners and claims to finally be making some gains after six months of selling, but still intends to apply for funding.
Webber wants FYI-Neath to be ad-funded, too. If it works, he hopes the “FYI” prefix can be deployed for a series of local portals in future. But the history books don’t bode well despite years of well-intentioned “hyperocal” hyperbole. Little commercial opportunity is apparent in the space; it appears operators must scale down commercial expectations in order to succeed…
To do that, Webber says “we’re going to be pounding a lot of shoe leather” and establishing local “silver surfer sessions” in Neath’s town centre, to show former Guardian readers how they can browse the web. Telesgop will be recording Neath’s local rugby games and other video for the site.