Over the past century, journalism has moved away from traditional newspaper reporting to broadcast journalism, and later online news organisations, informal blogs, and YouTube pundits. Where others saw the disruption of an outdated medium, though, Sir Ray Tindle saw an opportunity. Rather than going national with the advent of TV news after the second world war, Tindle began buying up local newspapers and radio stations in the UK, eventually building a local news empire spanning over 200 local newspapers.
Tindle gave his readers the local news they craved, first on paper, and in more recent years, in digital formats as well. Instead of going under, like so many small newspapers in the UK and the rest of Europe in the 20th century, Tindle Group has continued to thrive well into the 21st century, leaving him with a net worth of over £225 million at the time of his retirement in 2017.
The birth of Tindle Newspaper Group
Sir Ray Tindle started his career in journalism with the purchase of the Tooting Gazette for the bargain price of £250 after the second world war. The paper had only a small readership of 700 people, but Tindle was not to be deterred. As other newspapers lost readers and began to go into a downward spiral, displaced by the advent of broadcast television, his influence only grew. He began buying up struggling papers and helping them to recover, marking the beginning of a long and remarkable career.
More than half a century later, he retired while presiding over an enormous news organisation of 220 newspapers and radio stations. Building such a successful business is noteworthy in its own right, but Tindle’s accomplishment is worth examining for a different reason. Tindle deliberately built his empire in an industry that was, and still is, largely regarded as being on its deathbed. Despite this, he managed to operate a massive and steadily growing news organisation for more than half a century, having never made a single journalist redundant. While the rest of the world moved to explore the new possibilities offered by emerging technologies and national media, Tindle saw the niche that the disruption of traditional 20th century journalism had opened up in local news.
Tindle’s ultra-local philosophy
The secret to Tindle’s success was not brilliant cost cutting or innovative approaches to delivering the news. Instead, he focused on filling an unoccupied niche in journalism: local news for local audiences. As other news organisations were consolidated and gained influence, they increasingly focused on national and international topics. Local papers, who traditionally covered both local and national news, simply couldn’t compete with larger businesses, who served more customers with fewer journalists.
Tindle, on the other hand, decided to double down on local journalism. His reasoning was simple—and based on his own personal love of reading the local news. Everyone wants to know what’s going on in their own neighborhood. They want to see the names and faces of people they personally know in the paper, and they want to feel included in what’s going on around them.
Making business personal
Tindle’s newspapers and radio stations cover truly local news that aren’t sensational, and typically wouldn’t make the national news. They inform readers about what’s going in their own neighborhoods, what local businesses, politicians, and organisations are up to, and how to get engaged in their own local communities. The content that these papers offer is out of the reach of national news organisations, who simply don’t have journalists on the ground to cover local happenings.
What we can learn
Sir Ray Tindle’s legacy to other entrepreneurs is not about disruptive innovation, solving complex problems, or cleverly controlling costs. Instead, it’s about looking for business opportunities where no one else can see them.
Find a low competition niche
Tindle spent his career buying up and revitalising dying local newspapers and radio stations. Despite the fact that he enjoyed considerable success throughout his career, he never faced much competition from other news organisations, who simply didn’t see the value, or potential for profit, in his niche. By specialising in local news, his newspapers found fertile ground in which to grow, and where larger organisations couldn’t follow.
Adapt where it counts
This does not mean, of course, that it’s acceptable to simply ignore the march of progress. Tindle adapted his newspapers to fill precisely the niche that national news couldn’t fill. Moreover, Tindle Newspapers has not clung irrationally to traditional print media. Today, the local UK newspapers under Tindle Newspapers are available both in print and digital formats, seeking to capture younger generations of readers just as Tindle himself caught the attention of their parents and grandparents.