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Why I launched Outpost


“Looking back, I am amazed at my ambition and self-assurance. Launching The was a brave venture, and one that was ultimately hugely rewarding – hopefully for the local community as well as myself. Run on a part-time basis and a shoestring budget, the newspaper was never going to generate a significant financial return. (And it never did!) But that’s not what it was all about. I wanted to make a difference. And I hope that I did.

I was ambitious and (mostly) confident in my ability to write, edit, design and publish a high-quality, news-led publication that would both inform and inspire – maybe even amuse – its readers. I wasn’t interested in producing a ‘scene rag’, but I also wanted to steer clear of ‘serious and overly sincere’. It was a fine line to tread. In my mind, I was aiming for something along the lines of a lesbian and gay version of The Independent perhaps.

Before I launched The , I was Assistant Editor of The in London. During my time there, I managed to expand my remit to include trying to gather and publish more news from regional contacts. The Pink was always very London-centric, but I knew that there was also a huge amount of news – both serious and more light-hearted – being generated elsewhere. The rest of the UK just didn’t get any coverage. So I put a huge amount of effort into building a network of regional contacts and working to include more national news and contributors based outside London. We achieved this to a certain degree, but I knew we could do more.

In 1996, I decided I’d had enough of ‘London is everything’ attitude, of top management U-turns, of working ridiculously long hours and of having had to be content with a long-distance relationship for three years. So I decided to go freelance and move back to Birmingham, where I had met my partner while at Aston University.

Anyone who’s ever worked freelance will tell you that it takes a very long time to build up your business – especially if you’re starting from scratch in a new area. So suffice to say, I wasn’t pulling in a great deal of work. In the summer of 1996, the idea of being any kind of serious breadwinner (let alone the main one in a relationship) was a distant fantasy!

I had time on my hands, a desire to be involved in the production of a decent lesbian and gay publication, some modest savings… and the knowledge that Birmingham deserved better. So I jumped in pretty much feet first.

I had always wanted to launch my own newspaper and became obsessed with planning. Planning how the newspaper might look, thinking about what it might be called, imagining how it might be received… Hold on, first I’d need to work out how to produce the thing and get it distributed!

A couple of months later, I had a few freelance jobs under my belt and masses of scribbled ‘newspaper launch ideas’ under my desk. That’s when I was told, in no uncertain terms, by my supportive but frustrated partner to ‘just do it – or go and get a ‘proper’ job!’. So I did.

I explained my idea to friends, and roped them into helping out for free. I talked to friends of friends and somehow managed to do the same. I spoke with social groups and support organisations, health centres and libraries. I talked to printers and to an accountant. I persuaded record labels and publishing houses to send the paper a constant stream of singles, albums and books to review. Then I hit the bars and clubs…

Practically all of the businesses and organisations that I approached were impressed by the idea of a local news-led lesbian and gay publication and lent their support for the venture. They would let me distribute the newspaper through their premises, sometimes display promotional literature for it – and occasionally even pay for an advert to help fund it.

The [Outpost] was an ironic name, designed to communicate the fact that the newspaper would be covering news and events in and around the UK’s second city, which didn’t seem to make it into the ‘national’ titles.

The free newspaper would have 16 large pages and a monthly circulation of 12,000, with distribution ultimately stretching across the Midlands in a wide triangle between Warwick, Wolverhampton and Worcester.

The [Outpost] had an unusual and memorable folded format – something that I believe was unique in the UK at that time. It was distributed as an easy-to-handle A4 size, with a front cover image and back cover ad. But when picked up and unfolded, it opened out to A3 size, with the prominent masthead and newsy front page designed to give it an almost broadsheet look. This format was devised to give me more editorial design freedom. It also gave advertisers an interesting choice of options for display ad space – and the printers a real headache!

Revenue would be generated through subscriptions, display advertising and small personal and classified ads. But this would only really be enough to cover printing costs and a small expenses consideration for freelance contributors once the paper became established.

I always planned for The Outpost’s editorial content to be unapologetically news-led. This cornerstone news coverage was supported by a wide range of features, opinion pieces and free listings. The paper also offered a selection of ‘human interest’ slots, which carried everything from voxpops, music and book reviews to competitions and horoscopes by Cryptic Cassandra (aka Skeptic Peg).

The [Outpost] was launched in February 1997 on the back of plenty of word of mouth advertising and a promotional postcard campaign through local business and venues. I was also asked to take part in a broadcast on gay radio show , which offered further national exposure.

From its first issue onwards, the newspaper was very well supported by a wide range of local businesses, organisations and venues. Better still, it received very favourable reviews in comparison with some national titles at that time.

Of course, it’s very difficult to please everyone all of the time. But I’d like to think that The Outpost made a very good effort at doing just that by offering something of interest in every issue to individuals across the full spectrum of its intended wide readership.

I certainly couldn’t have done what I did without the unwavering support of my partner (then and now), Kate Sugden, and the enthusiasm and dedication of another freelance writer and the founder of , . I also had the help of a diverse and largely voluntary team of wonderfully willing freelance photographers, amateur illustrators, previously unpublished editorial contributors and dedicated distribution slaves in the wings!

Together, Kate, Gudrun and I spent many a late night wearily, but resolutely, cutting and pasting the pages together in the old-fashioned way before the newspaper went to print the following day. These were the days before digital printing was easily accessible by the general public and when professional desktop publishing packages were way beyond my budget. A few days later, I’d ring around and persuade a bunch of tireless friends to help me load bundles and bundles of freshly printed newspapers into the back of my car. Poor old Renault 11 – its suspension was never the same! Using their cars too, we’d embark on a stop-start evening dash around city centre venues to distribute the latest issue. The next day, I’d make the more far-flung trips.

It was all so much effort and those pre-press late nights so utterly exhausting... But the feedback was fantastic.

Then in summer of that year, Kate was somewhat unexpectedly offered a job in Australia. It was an amazing opportunity and an offer that we couldn’t turn down. So I made the difficult decision that Issue 7 of the newspaper would be the last published by me. However, The had been a resounding success and I really didn’t want to have to close it down. So I spent a number of weeks talking to interested parties about a takeover in an attempt to guarantee a future for the paper.

The [Outpost] was sold as a going concern in September 1997, with the new owners assuring me of their dedication to its continued success. That was unfortunately the end of my involvement with the paper. But it was never far from my thoughts as I set about volunteering my publishing skills to a lesbian-run newsletter on the other side of the world…”

Kyla Skinner

Contributed by: Kyla Skinner

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