In My Opinion: Susy MacAulay: Wish me luck, especially with the advertisers

WHEN I recently told people I was shutting down the print side of my local news business [as noted, here, on], their expressions ranged from shock to dismay.

I’m not exaggerating, and I wish those ‘print-is-so-over’ evangelists could have seen it for themselves. Plus those businesses who say, “We’ve got a website and a Facebook page, we don’t need to spend money on advertising.”

It’s a weird dichotomy. On the one hand, Island News & Advertiser, the monthly free newspaper I founded for the Hebrides almost four years ago, was a popular success with a print run which quickly expanded from 3,000 in the first month to 11,000 at the height of this summer. On the other, each edition was an unequal battle to persuade enough businesses to advertise in it.

Hebrideans are a reserved breed, they don’t normally gush or give praise if they don’t mean it. But there was hardly a day when I was out and about that someone didn’t come up to me and say: “That’s a great wee paper,” or words to that effect.

I delivered it up and down the islands myself. If the paper was a bit late for any reason, I would be roundly chastised: “At last. People have been asking for it, you know.”

Endearingly, they never really got the hang of the title. For a while, people called it ‘Susy’s paper’ or ‘the free paper’. Eventually, it seemed to settle down as, “The great wee paper. You know, the free one.”

So, with all that going for it, why on earth close it down and continue IN&A only online?

I mentioned the difficulty of persuading businesses to advertise. Local businesses were perfectly aware of the popular success of the paper, how it was picked up and on our CalMac ferries in large numbers – they could see this for themselves when travelling about.

How it was in the airports and just about every watering hole from the Inner Hebrides, right through the Outer Hebrides.

It even went to Orkney and Shetland where a few hundred copies were picked up in those airports each month.

But many businesses told me they didn’t need to advertise. Word of mouth was enough. Or their Facebook page was doing it all for them, free. Or they had committed their entire advertising budget elsewhere. Or they had tried advertising once and it didn’t get them any business, so what was the point (yes, the ‘nightmare’ of the one-off advertisement)? And so on.

I’m a journalist with not a shred of background in sales. Although I had enough success selling to keep the paper afloat, and then it generated some of its own sales once established, I should have pushed harder and more aggressively to expand the ad sales.

I made lots of mistakes and longed for an experienced sales person to come along and take the burden away from me.

That was never going to happen. I had one or two people going through my office and trying their hand, but giving up when the going got tough. And the going is really tough in sales.

Alongside, I was doing all the journalism too. Apart from occasional short spells with an intern or undergrad placement and other short-lived attempts to find staff who could stay the pace, I did the newspaper on my own, and it was getting to the point where I could barely stand up each month, by print day.

My only reliable help, and my absolute rock through it all was my page designer, Tim. He lives in Cleethorpes and exemplifies successful remote working – as well as his huge talent, he showed absolute commitment and dedication throughout, with not one word of complaint at working through two weekends of every month.

The paper was printed by CN newsgroup in Carlisle, and I have nothing but praise for the company’s excellent service and high-quality printing. IN&A gleamed on the shelves.

Facing IN&A readers’ dismay at losing their paper, I’m now looking at other options for a basic, weekly print product to satisfy the public’s appetite for local news, stuff they can’t see online.

If will permit, I’ll send back dispatches about that in a few months’ time.

Wish me luck, especially with the advertisers.

Susy MacAulay is the editor/publisher of Island News & Advertiser, based in the Outer Hebrides. She is a former junior reporter with The Courier and Evening Telegraph newspapers in Dundee and has also worked for BBC Scotland, as a director, and in Spain, as a broadcaster.