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Media Brexit Europe

Beyond Brexit: The New European editor plots a bigger role in the 'strange situation the country finds itself in'

By Ian Burrell | Columnist

November 3, 2016 | 11 min read

Having begun life as a ‘pop up newspaper’ amid the shockwaves of the Brexit vote, The New European has become so successful that it will be turned into a multi-platform media brand.

The New European Newspaper Brexit

The New European / The New European

Launched just 15 days after the referendum to give a voice to the 48% of voters who backed the Remain campaign, the 48-page paper was a counter-intuitive statement by publisher Archant about the enduring power of the printed word. Initially perceived as a four-week project, its popularity has ensured that the weekly publication is still thriving after four months.

But The New European’s editor Matt Kelly has told The Drum that the time has come to now look beyond the original vision and reposition the brand across multiple platforms with an interactive website, television production, debates and other live events aimed at building a “community” based on the Remain constituency. “What we are thinking about now is ‘What does the newspaper morph into?’,” he said.

The New European’s basic website was “thrown up in a hurry” for the primary purpose of helping readers to “find a newsagent that stocked the paper”. Now Kelly wants a site with a “community feel” that is “much more a platform for the 48% to talk amongst themselves, to talk about our content and any other content”.

There are numerous other opportunities for the brand, he believes. “It’s not just digital, it’s around events and how we engage people in the conversation much more outside of the newspaper.” Live events could range from the hard political and economical consequences of Brexit, which are The New European’s staple themes, to the “cultural aspects” of a paper which celebrates Euro culture with a stable of contributing writers that includes author Bonnie Greer, musician Bernard Sumner and comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli.

The title is also having initial discussions about “what makes for interesting TV on the debate about Brexit”, Kelly said. “We are trying to have big thoughts about where this could go and TV is an obvious medium where there are lots of traditional formats like Question Time and Newsnight…but is there something that really engages people’s imaginations around this conversation?”

Kelly, who is also Archant’s chief content officer, is an experienced senior digital media executive who has worked for a number of publishers including Trinity Mirror. He came up with the idea for launching the broadsheet despite having “spent the last 15 years talking people away from print”, and following the recent failure of Trinity Mirror daily print title New Day.

'Print can still be fleet'

“If [The New European] wasn’t a newspaper no one would have cared about it, it would have just been another website and no one would want to write for it or pay for it,” he contends.

The exercise has been a reminder that print can still be fleet. “If we were trying to launch a website we would still be designing it now. A newspaper we can spin out within days. So this old lie about this being a slow industry is just complete bollocks - print can be quicker than anything.”

The Norwich-based regional publisher produces the paper each Friday with a core “cadre” of just four staff, using copy submitted by a pool of highly-experienced and willing freelance writers, many of them well-known from the national press. “One of the affirming things of this project has been the calibre of people who have been prepared to get stuck in, more often than not for much less than they would be earning at an established mainstream newspaper,” said Kelly.

The paper is believed to have found a circulation of around 25,000, printed in Berliner format under contract by The Guardian. The initial editions of The New European sold 40,000 and it has begun a subscription drive of ten issues for £10 in an effort to build stability. Kelly concedes that the £2 cover price is “relatively high for a newspaper” but argues that it is “really cheap” compared to weekly periodicals such as The Spectator or New Statesman.

The paper is not dependent on its sparse advertising, which comes from a handful of loyal clients including the University of Kent. But a readership aligned with the 48% vote is “so well-defined for advertisers” that more business will follow, the editor claims.

Even so, he clearly does not see the long-term future in print, talking about the paper as a refuge for The New European’s “hardcore fan”, while a larger audience interacts online. By simply continuing as a standalone weekly, the paper would “fade away into nothing because people will lose interest and gradually drop off”, he said ruefully.

“But if we look at it as a community that happens to have a newspaper attached to it then there’s all sorts of opportunities for…playing a broader role in this strange situation the country finds itself in at the moment.”

Stepping away from party politics

The New European has recently enjoyed the boost of serialising Alastair Campbell’s diaries and this week it led on a “world exclusive” - an essay by Tony Blair on post-Referendum Britain. The former prime minister called on the British people to “build the centre in all political parties” and to “mobilise and organise” against a hard Brexit. The New European presented his vision of a new movement in the nation’s politics as “a rallying call for the 48%” and Blair’s decision to work with the title was an endorsement of its role in that endeavour.

Kelly penned a full-page editorial which praised Blair for his “hardcore political smarts”, and declared that “no other UK politician alive today can claim to have changed the trajectory of a political party on such a grand scale”.

With such backing from Blair and Campbell, and its willingness to attack Jeremy Corbyn as well as Theresa May, The New European is likely to find itself associated with New Labour.

But Kelly claims the paper stands aside from party politics. “We look at everything through the prism of Brexit and I don’t believe that was a party political outcome - I think it was a demonstration that party politics has lost touch with how real people think and act these days. This left versus right, Punch and Judy thing is redundant and if you look at the make up of the 48% they go right across the spectrum of party politics.”

To Blair’s point about the potential for a new centrist movement, Kelly acknowledges that the current disunity of Remainers can resemble the multitude of Judaean factions in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. “It feels like there is no clear voice out there.”

But he points to Europe and the emergence of parties such as Five Star Movement in Italy and Podemos in Spain. “I think we will go through a fairly traumatic couple of years when people work out that what they thought was simple is in fact incredibly complex. Out of that middle ground may well come a more grassroots party.”

What is undeniable is that the “step into the unknown” that Archant took in launching The New European has delivered a significant PR coup for a publisher largely known for its East Anglian daily newspapers, a stable of glossy shire-based magazines and the Norwich-based local television station Mustard TV. Suddenly Archant finds itself being praised as a media innovator by Richard Branson and featured in the business section of the New York Times.

Kelly argues that if the British press was more balanced there would be no need for The New European. As it is, the post-Referendum coverage of papers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express, as they agitate for a fast Brexit, acts as a foil for the young title and keeps Europe at the top of the news agenda.

Picking over the vented spleen of the right-wing tabloids, as they rage over immigration and the supposed treachery of the Remainers, is a rich source of material for the Archant paper. Kelly says he is not part of Fleet’s Street club and not “remotely bothered” by its “unwritten rules”.

Beyond Brexit

Given its single issue editorial position, there is a danger that The New European might descend into a relentless and depressing diet of doom-mongering, what the Mail would call “Bremoaning” or “Project Smear”. It tries to offset this by devoting the back end of the paper to its Eurofile section, “a celebration of why we all love Europe”, including Euro-themed features on travel, sport, fashion and food.

Kelly says he is anxious not to “bore people senseless about Brexit each week” and wants to give them something of the “sense of eclectic internationalism” he felt as a teenager, wielding the Herald Tribune in Le Dôme café in Paris as if he was Ernest Hemingway.

In another extension of The New European’s footprint, it will shortly be publishing, in the form of a 148-page magazine, an Annual Review of this momentous year and the paper’s first months of existence.

If its ambitions come to fruition, there may be more Annual Reviews to come. But if demand ebbs away or other media fill up the space that The New European currently occupies, the editor won’t be unduly upset. “We are under no illusions and we are not sentimentally attached to it at all. If we had played the tiniest little role in shaping the conversation that took us away from the disaster of hard Brexit, then no one would be happier than me.”

At the very least it has been an exercise in “zeitgeist” publishing. Archant probably won’t be alone in looking for other moments in time when nothing can feed the public’s like a specially-produced broadsheet newspaper.

“This idea of print being something that people will pay for and will treasure is something that digital cannot replicate,” says Kelly, the digital executive.

“We should play to that strength.”

Ian Burrell's column, The News Business, is published on The Drum each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell

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