Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

When local news truly means local

– the philosophy of Institute Fellow, Sir Ray Tindle

When I first had the pleasure of meeting Sir Ray Tindle over lunch at the Farnham headquarters of his newspaper – and radio – group, he had one overriding theme…“keep it local”.  We had been chatting about his first foray into ‘journalism’, producing an onboard newsletter for fellow passengers on the troopship to India with the Devonshire Regiment.  He had the ultimate ‘local’ enviroment, men from Devon, many of whom knew each other, so there was plenty of ‘Devon’ and plenty of ‘names’; he kept them informed and entertained on the journey.

He described his intital difficulties breaking into the business after being demobbed. Many trained journalists who had survived the conflict had returned and, not unreasonably, wanted to pick up where they left off!   The inevitable result was that anyone keen to get into full-time journalistic employment was in competition with trained and experienced journalist. Those like Ray Tindle found themselves scrabbling round looking for work.  Coincidentally, my late father, Philip Leighton – a CIoJ member for many years – had a similar experience when he first returned from ‘peacekeeping’ duties in the Kings 3rd Hussars with the Palestine Mandate Force.

It took them, and others like them, quite a while to establish themselves in the business.

Sir Ray’s solution, after doing some ‘general dogsbody’ work with the Croydon Times,  was to buy a small local ‘paper with £300 ‘demob’ money.  The paper was the Tooting and Balham Gazette, which had the somewhat limited circulation of around 700…but it was with that the Tindle entrepreneurial exercise began.

Throughout conversations with Sir Ray, and I’m happy to say there have been several, he has returned to one overriding theme, a clear and still current philosophy – ‘keep it local – very local’.

The Tenby Observer

This was, perhaps, best exemplified when, in 1978, he read in the Daily Telegraph that the Tenby Observer, re-named by its owners as the West Wales Observer to attract a wider readership geographically, was to close. Sir Ray is quoted as saying that  “The West Wales Observer covered everything from Carmarthen to Haverford West, and it had failed. I told the staff I only wanted news of Tenby and I wanted to go back to the old title.” Sir Ray says the Tenby paper made well over £100,000 in 2007 and sales have more than doubled since he saved it.

There was another, much more poignant reason, that Sir Ray wanted to save the Tenby Observer. Apparently he knew that the ‘paper had played a rather significant role in newspaper history.  In 1908 the Tenby Observer’s editor had led a major campaign which resulted in Parliament approving the Admission of the Press to Meetings Act.  Hardly surprising then that the paper continues to carry the slogan ‘pioneer of press freedom’ under its masthead.  I must have a look at the Institute archives to see whether the Institute played a part!

The other consistent part of Sir Ray’s philosophy is that, in the face of newspaper closures by much larger newspaper groups, he has never closed down a title.  It is also said that he has has never made staff redundant.  The philosophy of ‘keeping it local’ also seems to have contributed to the success of the small group of radio stations he has acquired – from the Channel Islands to the Republic of Ireland.

As the former news editor of local radio stations in both independent and BBC radio I can only admire the Tindle philosophy; it is what motivated me as a committed ‘local’ newsman throughout my time at the local radio coalface!  It is also the approach that has made some smaller radio stations – like  BBC Radio Derby or Mix96 in Aylesbury, with clearly recognisable communities in smaller geographical areas,  more successful than the big city ‘local’ stations.

Sir Ray  now runs one of the top ten biggest newspaper publishers – with 225 titles at the last count with an audited weekly circulation of 1.4 million.

Among those are the 27 titles the Tindle Group bought from Trinity Mirror in 2007, papers in south London, Mitcham, Barnet  and Bexley among them. Not to mention the Yellow Advertiser Series.

But Sir Ray has never been just a one-man band, though the company is very much ‘his’ company.   He gives huge credit to his two lieutenants Wendy Craig (finance), who started as a PA and Group Managing Director Brian Doel. He is also quick to praise thirty general managers whom he routinely describes as ‘superb’.

So, we inevitably return to the main question: is the concentration on ‘local’ the only explanation for the success of our distinguished CIoJ Fellow?  Is the Tenby Observer a very special case?

With the growth of the Tindle Group the question is almost laughable.  Sir Ray’s philosophy has made viable newspapers that much bigger players, like Trinity Mirror, had written off.   Whatever happened to EMAP?

There are, of course, always other factors at play.  The Tindle Group owes no money.  The only shareholder is Sir Ray Tindle; the Group does not have to please any shareholders; only Sir Ray.

When other companies have contracted, sold off titles, made journalists redundant, he has not.

He has consistently weathered the storm.

Jon Slattery, of the Press Gazette, once wrote: “How has the Tindle Group survived for 40 years (now rather more) when companies like EMAP have turned to dust?”

‘Noli Cedere’

The Tindle coat of arms bears the slogan ‘Noli Cedere’, which for those who did not have the dubious pleasure of being taught Latin by a man who had been taught the language by my grandfather, translates as ‘No Surrender’.

He never has. No compromise on emphasising ‘local’ coverage, no willingness to retrench in the face of recessions –  and Sir Ray reckons he’s lived through six of those!

In an age when most journalists despise media owners, who look for profits first and care about the product much later, the Tindle Group has a refreshingly different approach.

I did not set out to write a hagiography, but as I put these thoughts together, I realised that I admired this man much more than I has previously realised. Best of all, he is one of ours!

Paul Leighton

President CIoJ