Can The New European succeed as Britain’s anti-Brexit paper?

At a difficult time for the print media, temporary weekly the New European is bucking the trend.

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On 23 June I woke up angry. Of course, confronted with the news that Britain had narrowly voted to leave the EU, I set out to devour every relevant news story I could get my hands on.

In the weeks following the referendum, news of constant resignations and disturbances flowed in from Westminster. Everyone was reading a lot more news. The political upheaval encouraged all of us to keep on top of current affairs with more rigour than usual.

As such, newspaper sales increased. The Audit Bureau of Circulations reported a 15 per cent increase in sales of the Times compared to June last year. The Guardian increased its daily average sales by 3.6 per cent in June compared to May, and the Sun was up 2 per cent month on month.

But there was a noticeable gap in the stance of the reporting. The 48 per cent could take no solace in the Daily Mail’s 24 June headline “Take a bow, Britain!”, or the other countless smug articles which were to follow. Clearly, the vast majority of the media had failed the 48 per cent. Social media showed that many of those who voted to remain in the EU felt unserved and unrepresented. We wondered whether without such a strong anti-EU media bias, the result may have been very different.

This was the gap that Archant, the Norwich-based regional publisher which owns four daily newspapers and eighty weeklies, including the East Anglian Daily Times, jumped to fill. Jeff Henry, Chief Executive, and Matt Kelly, Chief Content Officer, were aware of the lack of pro-Remain publications, and felt certain that people were buying more printed papers. The referendum, which a colleague of Henry’s described as “the greatest piece of market research ever seen” had created a target market for them. The New European was born out of this opportunity.

The first print edition of the temporary weekly New European, “the new pop-up paper for the 48 per cent”, arrived on newsagents’ shelves on 8 July. The paper declares itself to be “positively European” on its Facebook page. Its opening pages focus on readers' comments, tweets and letters, followed by a mix of opinionated columnists.

Starting a new publication was a bold venture. 2016’s previous attempt at a pop-up paper, the New Day, was launched in February. Yet Trinity Mirror announced its closure within just ten weeks of its launch. Reports claimed it was running at an annual loss of £1m.

It would seem Archant was wiser in their choice of target market and timing. The New European sold more than 40,000 copies of its first edition, exceeding targets. Despite the team’s initial idea of just four weekly editions, last week it was announced that the paper’s success has earned it a longer print run (although how long has not been confirmed).

In a statement to the Metro, Kelly said: “If people want it, we’ll keep publishing, so every edition after the fourth edition will be a referendum on the next.”

The speed at which the New European was launched is testament to the fact that it only ever set out to be a pop-up. Kelly describes it as “a paper of the moment” and “of the zeitgeist”.

The paper’s publication is reactive, seeking to reflect the feeling of the time. “It’s a paper of the moment,” Kelly says. “If in a few weeks the tone has changed, we will close the paper. We’re prepared for that.” Henry and Kelly proudly boast its journey “from concept to consumers” in just nine days. This was possible because Archant already had the staff to launch it – there was no need to find new staff elsewhere.

The New European is an emblem of EU solidarity to brandish in the hands of many angered Remainers. Its bright blue masthead is even embellished with a yellow star straight off the EU flag. It does not neatly fit into categories of “tabloid” or “broadsheet”. The first two front covers boldly display playful cartoons of a dog by Daily Mirror cartoonists Kerber & Black. The third edition’s cover sees an illustrated cyclist in a vivid yellow jersey cycling against a background of a Tricolore. Yet its content is not all fun, nor easily consumable. It has photo diaries and infographics alongside heavier political pieces.

Pro-Remain voices, such as Miranda Sawyer, Jonathan Freedland, Alastair Campbell, and Howard Jacobson contribute defiant pieces on life post-Brexit. The values are progressive and the tone is angry (although the paper seems to be struggling to publish anything like as many women writers as men – perhaps the true progressive journalistic revolution is still to come).

Even the paper’s format is European. The paper is in Berliner format (also used by the Guardian), taller and wider than a tabloid, yet slightly narrower and shorter than a broadsheet. Having to unfold it to read the full spread requires space, like any broadsheet. Yet its bright colours declare it as something fresh, something emblematic to carry with you on your commute.

Kelly likes the idea of the paper as an emblem. He tells me how he was 17 when the Independent launched, an impressionable age at which to admire its slogan (“free from political bias, free from proprietorial influence”). He carried a copy of the paper around with him almost as a badge of honour. In a statement on the launch of the New European, Kelly said “Every issue will be a collector's item”, each paper a symbol of some cohesion that has come out of the mess of post-Brexit Britain.

To Henry, the New European was never designed to be a revolutionary project. He tells me “I never viewed the paper as a political statement. There were differing views on Europe across management. Its purpose was always as a publishing vehicle.”

Most remarkable is the paper’s stark reminder of the power of print journalism. In fact, far from the ever-present images of a dying print media, Henry thinks there is “something quite refreshing that this is a traditional print product”. He goes on to tell me that “Whatever the form, if there is great content, people will enjoy it. This product lent itself to being a product with the kudos that print brings.”

Kelly agrees with me when I am frank in stating that the paper’s website is not particularly flashy. “It’s not the best website in the world. But our thought was that no one would care if we only did a website. Print still has a degree of magic – it demands attention. For many it seemed counter-intuitive for us to launch a new paper when print is supposedly dying, but we wanted people to value the content we were creating – print does that.” 

Ellen Peirson-Hagger is the New Statesman's culture assistant.