The pandemic was a tough time for local and hyperlocal news titles, hit by the double challenge of declining advertising revenue and difficulties to distribute print copies.
But as the world is reopening, the situation is starting to look up. That is certainly the case for The Slice, Tower Hamlets's first print community magazine that launches tomorrow.
The bi-annual title is published by the non-profit media organisation Social Streets that already covers the area with digital neighbourhood publications for Tower Hamlets, Roman Road, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel and Poplar. The print magazine will use some of the content from these titles, as well as brand new stories by and about the communities living in the borough.
"One of the reasons for this is identity and belonging," says Tabitha Stapely, founder and director of Social Streets. She adds that while the existing digital titles focus on small patches in Tower Hamlets, the print magazine wants to make people feel like they belong to the whole borough. Another advantage of a more widely distributed print title is greater reach, which is more interesting for advertisers.
When Stapely created Social Streets, she assessed the local press market. It was made up mostly of glossy, luxury magazines that were a shopping window for retail, and traditional papers focusing on crime and corruption, which were playing on people’s fears and dividing the community. She saw an opportunity to create a news publication that brings people together and feels accessible and inspirational.
But developing a new title that is financially sustainable while covering one of the most deprived areas of London is a challenge.
To finance the project, The Slice partnered up with community organisations, from local businesses to housing associations, event venues and cultural associations. These organisations will help them distribute the print copies as well as provide content.
'Social impact will be our mark of success'
While many felt isolated during the lockdown, Stapely said that the pandemic actually solidified journalists' relationship with the community. They sent their readers direct messages, set up online covid hubs and focused on bringing people together and keeping them informed.
"We are trusted in the community," she says. "They call us by our first names and they know our faces."
This personal relationship is invaluable, given the lack of audience data that comes with a print product. To dig deeper and understand the impact of its work, Social Streets surveyed 200 readers last year and published the findings in The Social Value of Local Journalism report.
The survey found that more than 80 per cent of readers agreed that the content made them feel proud of their neighbourhood and nearly three quarters (73 per cent) said that it inspired them to shop or dine on the local high street.
Another mission of the magazine is to bring down the barriers between the communities and bring people together. To help everyone feel represented, the 32-page title will feature every neighbourhood, one key feature in each area, and list local events that are underreported by larger entertainment and culture titles like Time Out.
Its shopping section will feature independent shops to help the locals discover smaller businesses in their area. Curiously, the title also wants to bring back local classified ads.
If you want to pick up the first issue, you can meet The Slice at the local market on 11 December which will also be an opportunity for the community to get to know the team behind their first event print magazine.
Clarification: This article has been updated on 17 November. The previous version incorrectly stated that the publication partnered with the council to finance the project.
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