SCOTLAND'S newest local newspaper, Wee County News, is already making its presence felt. Bright and brash, with a strong hint of tabloid style about its pages, it has just won first prize for its innovative layout in the John Menzies Scottish Newspaper Awards.

However, for managing director Graham McMurdo and editor David Bytheway, it has not been an easy ride, launching a new title in direct competition with the area's long-standing local paper.

It was a chance remark in an opticians in Alloa, where the paper is based, that set the wheels in motion. Mr McMurdo, a businessman with a background in the commercial side of publishing, was asked if he had ever considered setting up a paper in opposition to the Alloa Advertiser.

There were those, not least the competition, who thought he needed more than his eyes tested to even try. As an independent publisher, he would be taking a high risk.

Mr McMurdo was under no illusions about the task facing him. Not interested in launching a freesheet, which would have kept the set-up costs much lower, he wanted the paper to carry a cover price, believing readers would then attach more value to it.

``After talking to a couple of businessmen I put a business plan together and came up with some sums which were pretty horrific,'' he said.

``It was clear that a substantial six-figure sum was going to be needed to get the paper off the ground. There's no point in having enough money to tide you over for the first three months alone.''

Backers were sought, #150,000 raised and a staff recruited, headed by David Bytheway, who had spent 17 years as a sub-editor on the Daily Record.

``I wanted to use the best of daily tabloid techniques and adapt them to a weekly presentation, so we made the paper bright and lively and used colour from week one,'' Mr Bytheway said.

``What worried me at the start was that there would not be enough news in Clackmannanshire to make the paper interesting enough. However, it has surprised me what does go on here and the very good stories we have been able to report.

The team's confidence was boosted earlier this year when Wee County News picked up a commendation in a British Telecom competition. And since the paper started, the Alloa Advertiser has introduced colour, gone from two editions to one a week and now carries a dateline which meets its rival head on.

Advertising revenue, representing 75% to 80% of the paper's income, has been a crucial factor in its ability to survive. Mr McMurdo readily admits that at first it was a struggle persuading advertisers that they should buy space.

However, enough were convinced to keep the paper afloat, and a major breakthrough came in April when Clackmannanshire Council agreed to place its advertising in Wee County News.

``I would say it will probably be well into next year before we break even,'' Mr McMurdo said.

Neither he nor Mr Bytheway would deny that, at around 7500 copies a week sold, circulation is below that of the Alloa Advertiser. However, Mr McMurdo has his sights on 9000 copies by the end of this year, and an aggressive marketing campaign has been implemented to attract new readers - especially in the under-30 age group.

More than a year down the line, he is confident enough to talk about acquiring another one - ``maybe another two'' - new titles for his company, Wee County Publishing.