CASE STUDY #9: Pioneer Magazines - From Confusion to Community Cohesion
Updated: May 22
Area of Influence: West Midlands
First launched 15 years ago, bimonthly print community magazines Pioneer Magazines and the Great Barr Gazette, are delivered directly through the doors of 48,000 homes in Walsall and Great Barr, both in the West Midlands. Covering everything from local news, events and general interest, these community titles are very popular, with both readers and local advertisers who reliant on them for information and exposure, seeing them as trusted publications.
The publisher has been hit hard by Covid-19, but despite initial confusion and a flurry of advertising cancellations, the publications have worked hard to produce an invaluable online lockdown guide, as well as a whole host of other resources to serve their local communities. They have even managed to secure new sources of advertising revenue thanks to the crisis, against the odds.
Responding to the Covid-19 Crisis
While usually Pioneer Magazines and the Great Barr Gazette focus their coverage on the latest local updates and raising awareness of upcoming events, community groups and local businesses through advertising and in-depth features, recent content has been tailored towards providing locals with the information they need during the present crisis.
The magazines have produced an online lockdown guide, listing which local businesses and trades are still open for business. The titles have also signposted vital information about local food banks, where local residents can get assistance with their shopping and prescriptions and befriending services for isolated and vulnerable members of the community. Key public health and safety messages from local emergency services, police and councils have also been published across the magazines.
The magazines have also been running stories on everyday heroes from the local community who have gone the extra mile to help others during lockdown, after putting out a call on social media. They have also been sharing guidance on supporting learning in lockdown provided by local schools to help struggling parents, as well as stories of individuals, businesses and schools who are making PPE.
Conscious of the fact that many locals who are shielding and have been confined to their homes over the last few months would not have seen the rainbow artwork and messages of support for the NHS local children have been making and displaying in their windows, the title has also been publishing pictures of these taken by locals who may have spotted them when out for their daily exercise.
The impact of the pandemic
When the crisis first hit, the Pioneer Magazines and Great Barr Gazette suffered an immediate loss of advertising revenue and wrestled with the practicality of how to continue to get magazines delivered.
“General confusion over who should and should not be working did not help and we were concerned that we may get negative comments from householders not wanting to receive things through their door.” – Gill, Editor, Pioneer Magazines & Great Barr Gazette.
Where to turn for assistance with the financial impact of the virus was also a source of concern and unease.
“I fall outside all Government help and would be very uncomfortable taking out a loan when advertising revenue is falling. Funding would really help to ensure that we can continue to print.” – Gill, Editor, Pioneer Magazines & Great Barr Gazette.
While initially losing advertisers, the title has in fact had interest from new advertisers from the local area, like more traditional door-to-door delivery services that can still operate safely during lockdown, from milk deliveries to the local fishmonger. A sign that adapting to difficult circumstances and going back to basics and community roots is invaluable at a time like this.
As a result of securing new advertising revenue and demand from readers the magazines are still being published. As many readers are not online, the importance of continuing to deliver physical editions to locals and of supporting the local community cannot be understated.
“It has struck me how much people want to be part of something. More than ever before, our fragmented communities need cohesion right now. Newspapers have stopped printing and online information can be overwhelming. Not everyone can access online information - but everyone has a letterbox.” – Gill, Editor, Pioneer Magazines & Great Barr Gazette
Yet, it has still been tough for those working on the magazines.
“It has been an exhausting yet amazing journey these last few weeks. The rise of community spirit has been wonderful to see; in staying apart, we have come together in a way not seen in most of our lifetimes.”
Pioneer Magazines and the Great Barr Gazette are examples of independent news providers going above and beyond to support their communities through an incredibly difficult time and the rewards of flexibility and having community spirit.
Their hard work and tenacity is proof of the resilience of independent publishers, but they are still not out of the woods. Now more than ever it is important to help publishers like these and to help #saveindependentnews