Lisa Cowan, Editor of the Newstead News, talks to us about running and editing a local paper entirely produced by the local community.

Newstead News encourages people to get involved with producing their local paper - how do you instil confidence in them that they can write articles?

For feature articles, confidence varies. While some approach us with ideas, most need encouragement. We start by discovering their interests and passions. When people write about topics they love, the process becomes easier. As a result, we have regular features on movies, recipes, science, wildlife, and 20th-century fashion.

As the editor, I identify potential stories and encourage contributions, whether it's a short report, a longer feature, or even a photograph. Some residents need more support to share their stories. For instance, an elderly resident once emailed images from the 1950s with only a few details. I called him, listened to his recollections, and wrote the accompanying story, ensuring he received the byline.

We also encourage children and young people to contribute. Ross, Flora, and Ruaridh, aged between 5 and 8, have written features on local events. Others have shared bake sale reports, sporting achievements, or business ideas. Sometimes this involves recognising where young people have excelled in the community and then contacting parents to gauge their children's interest in writing a report.

People may struggle to approach us due to nerves, have doubt about the interest of their activities, or lack of experience in writing articles. The success of Newstead News lies in connecting with the community and encouraging participation. While we have some regular writers, most contribute occasionally or submit one-off articles. Reassuring contributors about spelling and grammar helps alleviate their concerns, ensuring they feel confident their work will be well-presented.

Why do you think it's important that people volunteer with local projects such as Newstead News? How does it benefit both the individual and the wider community?

Newstead is a tiny Scottish village with approximately 170 homes. Although we have a village hall, the community lacks a local shop or pub, so it’s easy for people to become detached due to their busy lives. The Newstead News is delivered free to every home and helps keep our village connected. Contributors volunteer as much or as little time as they can afford, there is no commitment, it’s very much a come and go project.

My background is in media, where I take on specialist roles at the Newstead News such as coordinating the publication and layout design. However, this also means I face considerable pressure to maintain my volunteering efforts, which can jeopardise the publication's long-term sustainability. This is an area that we are hoping to address.

Despite some of the challenges, volunteering with projects like the Newstead News can make a huge impact. It encourages a sense of belonging among residents who might otherwise feel isolated. By contributing their skills and time, volunteers help sustain a vital community resource that provides opportunities to share stories as well as keeping everyone informed about local events, developments, and issues. This not only makes volunteers feel more fulfilled and connected but also strengthens the broader community by encouraging more people to get involved, it also helps build closer bonds among residents.

Newstead News has a really wide range of articles, from local reporting to reviews of cultural events and much more. How do you decide what to cover?

We regularly feature content such as our wildlife page, movies, and fashion, but our articles are primarily driven by what residents want to write about and the issues affecting our village. We focus on content that interests our community, ensuring it remains hyperlocal. Most of the time, the Newstead News features stories that are relevant specifically to our village and may not appeal to those outside our community.

How do you divide up the many tasks involved in producing a community newspaper (writing, editing, photography, gathering local information, distribution etc)?

The Newstead News is a three-times-a-year magazine featuring full-colour pages spanning approximately 20 pages. It operates with a flexible and informal approach to accommodate the busy lives of everyone involved, including myself. To manage deadlines effectively, reminders are sent out via email and updates are posted on our community's social media platforms. Residents also encourage one another to contribute articles and images.

Most submissions arrive via email and then the job of editing and laying out the publication in Adobe InDesign takes place. This is the most time consuming and specialist part of the process. Before heading to the printers, the Newstead News is proofread by a professional publisher who lives in the village.

After the magazine is printed, copies are collected and distributed across the village by volunteers who help ensure every household receives a copy. The Newstead Village Community Trust supports the publication by providing governance oversight and handling administrative tasks, such as organising funding to cover printing and invoicing any advertisers.

If somebody was thinking of setting up a hyper-local newspaper such as Newstead News, what advice would you give them?

  • Start small and keep your expectations manageable. The Newstead News started as an A5, 4 page, black and white flyer in 2020 before moving onto an A4, 4 page, colour newsletter. Over the years it has developed into a 20-page magazine style publication. We only publish three times a year as that is what is most manageable.
  • Embrace the flexibility of community journalism, allowing contributors to participate at their own pace.
  • Actively engage with residents through email, social media, and community events to foster article submissions that reflect local interests and issues. People need encouraged to participate.
  • Ensure content remains hyperlocal and relevant by focusing on topics that matter most to the community. It doesn’t have to be like a typical newspaper, produce the stories that people want to write.
  • It's essential to have someone with publishing skills or a willingness to learn. While InDesign is commonly used, exploring accessible alternatives like Canva can be beneficial.
  • Be mindful of copyright and libel laws; seek guidance when covering sensitive topics to avoid legal issues. Be sure to get permission to feature other people’s images and parental consent for images of children.
  • Consider additional factors such as accessibility, offering formats like large print upon request, and ensuring sustainability through community partnerships and reader feedback.
  • Uphold ethical standards and consider having an editorial board.

Publishing a community magazine can be hard work, but it is also incredibly rewarding. The feedback we receive about the Newstead News is phenomenal. We know it makes an important contribution to the lives of individual residents, and the community as a whole.


Images: Lisa Cowan (and her dog!); the Newstead News being delivered by a young volunteer; a Newstead News lanyard belonging to young reporter Ross