An Independent reporter has set up a new local newspaper in central London to bring coverage into under-reported communities.
Following a community project call-out by local charity The Peel, journalist Oliver Bennett launched EC1 Echo, in partnership with local newspaper publisher Social Spider. EC1 Echo is a free print and online title covering London-based communities, including Clerkenwell, Finsbury and the EC1 postcode.
Local journalism has faced a difficult decade, as the emergence of online news has caused print readership to decline. Print circulation at local and regional titles has halved, while the number of local UK newspapers has dropped by a quarter between 2007 to 2017, according to The Cairncross Review, an independent study into a sustainable future for journalism.
It is this lack of local coverage which Bennett, now editor of EC1 Echo, wants to address.
"There’s an incredible amount of interest in the democratic deficit at the moment. As local papers decline, local reportage has declined along with them," he explained.
EC1 Echo becomes Social Spider's fourth community publication, alongside the Waltham Forest Echo, the Tottenham Community Press and the Enfield Dispatch. However, Bennett said that EC1 Echo adds a new perspective to the local news diet.
"They don’t have that Clerkenwell specificity. We feel that we have a market position that is special and intends to represent EC1 in all its forms," said Bennett.
Although the publication intended to be online-only, working with Social Spider and its local titles meant there was a print distribution model ready and waiting to be used.
The non-profit publication will publish a new edition every two months, with an initial print run of 5,000 copies distributed across the area in cafes and libraries. A digital version of the newspaper is also available online.
Moving forward, EC1 Echo will diversify its funding by offering advertising space for local businesses and a membership model.
"We don’t think this is going to make us rich, but we think by giving some sort of shape and expression to the EC1 area we will capture a certain sentiment that will lead to those sort of funding streams being effective," he concluded.
Bennett is not the first UK journalist to set up a local paper in their hometown after holding senior positions with Fleet Street national newspapers. Former Sun sub-editor Lawerence Hatton launched the Ilkeston Inquirer in Derby earlier this year, and former Sunday Express news editor Alan Qualtrough followed suit with the Stonehouse Voice in Plymouth.