Ilana Fox, the woman behind The Brighton Beezer, tells Gorkana’s Ona Zygaviciute about why she launched the publication, what makes it unique – and the role print journalism has to play in the modern media landscape.
What makes The Brighton Beezer unique? What inspired its launch, and why now?
We concentrate on stories from and about people within our local community, rather than on news or lacklustre events – something you don’t really see in print.
The newspaper industry as a whole is still trying to figure out digital, and local papers even more so. Digital lends itself better to local breaking news so much better than print can, in terms of cost, resourcing and timing. But we’ve found local advertisers still very much want to advertise in print: they trust it.
It was the question “Where does that leave the content side of a local paper?” that inspired the launch of The Beezer. Our answer is that we want to bring the focus back to the community, to the people, and to share stories that are inspiring, relatable and good. We want to bring something new to the local newspaper scene.
How will you judge its success? What do you want to achieve in the first 12 months?
If someone picks up the paper and they read something that makes their heart soar or makes them think, then that’s a success to me.
Of course, every newspaper is a business, and if we can create a paper that at the very least breaks even in terms of advertising revenue I’ll be happy. But we’re so far on track to generate a profit, which excites me. It’s early days, but it shows that advertisers understand what we’re trying to do and want to support it.
What does your role involve?
My background is working in digital and start-ups, so I’m applying tech start-up methodology to running this newspaper – and I get my hands dirty. I oversee everything from editorial to advertising to business development to distribution to the countless revenue spreadsheets to resourcing to brand to the legal stuff – the list is endless.
Would you give us an overview of the editorial team structure?
We have an editor and several freelance journalists, who range from first job journalists to seasoned pros who are involved because they love it.
It’s not a big team – we’re a new paper, I need to keep costs down while ensuring everyone gets paid – but it’s a passionate team.
Then we have a couple of freelance subs, a head of design who I worked with at The Sun (Jamie Griffin), and then people we call on to help with the design of the adverts as and when we need it. It’s very agile and we work in sprints.
What draws you to traditional print and, while the regional press faces challenging markets, makes you think there is a role for print titles in local communities?
There’s something special about print that digital can’t replicate; it’s that permanency, that feeling of holding something in your hands.
Print advertising still very much has a place in a digital world – 60% of people who read a paper don’t do anything else when they’re reading it, and one in two adults read a newspaper every week. The audience is still huge, and more importantly, they’re not distracted like you would be reading something on your phone or laptop.
Advertisers – and local advertisers – understand and trust print and print readers in a way that they don’t necessarily do with digital advertising and people clicking about on websites. It feels more authentic, and when you combine that with the content in The Beezer, which is honest storytelling about people within the community.
What PR opportunities would you say The Brighton Beezer offers? The paper being completely new, are there any sections you’d like PRs to pay particular attention to?
We’ve been approached by about 100 PRs since The Beezer launched. Our inboxes have gone crazy! We really appreciate all the interesting stuff that’s coming our way.
We’re a small team and are pounding the streets most days meeting and talking to people. But we’ve learned so much more about things going on in the community from the PRs who have approached us. If you’re a PR working with someone who’s got a great story to tell, we’d love to hear more.
But what’s different about us is that we’re not going to ever just repurpose press releases to fill copy space. That’s not what we’re about. We will never, ever do a puff piece on a business just for the sake of it.
How do you view the PR industry? What tips would you have for PRs pitching content to The Brighton Beezer?
I’ve managed PR teams in my time and, my God, it can be a thankless task. But then there’s nothing more exciting than scoring a great piece of coverage that makes a huge difference to a client, and I totally understand that.
My tips are the obvious: make sure the story is the right fit for the publication and the audience and do your research. The Beezer is pretty different to other local papers, and I’ll always get back to people who have taken the time to consider that in their pitch. Mass-sent emails, on the other hand, get deleted straight away.