Disruptive local news platform The Manchester Mill is eyeing expansion to Northern cities including Leeds and Newcastle after receiving £350,000 seed funding.
The Mill, which focuses on in depth hyper-local news and a mixed free/subscription-based model over clickable headlines and breaking stories, was founded as a self-funded project in 2020’s lockdown by journalist Joshi Herrmann. It has already expanded to include editions in Sheffield (The Tribune) and Liverpool (The Post), and Herrmann has also suggested Glasgow and Birmingham as potential locations for future expansion.
The £350k figure may be relatively modest in a world of multi-billion media behemoths, but what is perhaps just as notable as the funding itself is its source. Backers in the new funding round include Sir Mark Thompson, former CEO of Channel 4, former director general of the BBC and ex-CEO of The New York Times; Nicholas Johnston, the publisher of Axios, which has a network of 30 local news sites in the US; David Rosenberg, the global director of strategy at Snap Inc; Diane Coyle, the University of Cambridge economist, and Turi Munthe of Demotix, the photojournalism network.
Thompson said: “I’m backing The Mill because of the exceptional quality of its journalism and because it’s such an interesting and encouraging initiative. Britain’s cities need great commercially-sustainable journalism to inform the public and hold powerful institutions to account. That’s what The Mill and its sister publications were founded to do, and what they are consistently achieving.”
Coyle added: “High quality, deep local reporting is the bedrock of a democratic society, and an essential antidote to the maelstrom of misinformation online. Investing in The Mill’s future growth is my commitment to the vital role of news and local knowledge in shaping confidence and pride in the UK’s cities. If they are not thriving, our country will not thrive. I’ve been a paying Mill member from very early on, and I’m excited by how it – and its sister publications in Sheffield and Liverpool – have grown since then. I hope the company can make a similar impact in other cities across the country.”
Mill Media Co currently has around has 5,000 paying subscribers for its newsletters covering Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield. The company is on course to book £400,000 in annual revenues this year, with nine people on the payroll.
Most of its revenue comes from Substack subscriptions, which are around £7 per month, while about 10 per cent comes from advertising and sponsorship. The Mill may typically deliver just one story per day, although that story may be 3,000 words in length, in contrast to the popular local news approach of “throw enough stories at the wall and one might stick.”
Perhaps appropriately, Herrmann found his new benefactors because they had already subscribed to one of his newsletters.
He told Prolific North: “It’s wonderful that we’re getting this kind of backing to expand our model to other places. This company was born in Manchester and even now we’re based out of a small office in the Royal Exchange building. It’s only because of how our journalism has been enthusiastically welcomed and shaped by our audiences in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield that we now have a formula that can hopefully help to revive local journalism in other cities.”
Herrmann added that The Mill is already looking to hire ahead of its planned expansion, with new vacancies posted on the jobs page of manchestermill.co.uk. He concluded: “I don’t think it’s the biggest deal in the world, but I think raising private capital in local journalism at the moment is probably a bit unusual.”