Local Newspaper Week starts on Monday. This year the theme is Making a Difference.
It’s about how local papers change things for the better for the communities they represent.
When you work or have worked on newspapers you have a real loyalty to them. Deservedly so.
Local newspapers are the most widely read print medium in Britain – 30 million readers at the last count – and still the most effective means of generating word of mouth conversations.
Just ask anyone who follows Blackpool Football Club...
This is the first time in more than 40 years that I haven’t worked as a local newspaper reporter.
It almost physically pains me to admit it. Emotionally it leaves me bereft. Public relations puts me the other side of the divide, pushing press releases out to reporters already on email overload.
On the plus side my reporting career lasted longer than some newspapers. One North West regional paper folded after 21 issues.
To put it into perspective the first issues of The Gazette rolled off the presses on April 3, 1873.
I joined about 100 years later.
And you know what? You can leave a newspaper but it never really leaves you. You still want to call newsdesk when you get the sniff of a story. You still want to write it. You may even find yourself taking a pop at the paper because it’s a blood sport to have a go at The Gazette but it’s still a good read and great value – unless you want to shut yourself off from what’s really happening on your doorstep and rely on air time for your fix of news.
And every community that loses a newspaper – either through lack of commitment on a newspaper’s part or the lethargy of locals to make the most of it – comes to realise just what’s gone when it’s too late... to make that difference.
And that’s a champion to fight your corner, to keep the council accountable, to question why a main road is being closed when it’s most needed, or neighbouring pensioners can’t use their passes on the trams any more, or report on a global “man” hunt for missing monkeys, or ask whether fracking really will deliver the jobs bonanza exponents claim without leaving us quaking,
A good newspaper is the head, heart, soul and guts of its community. It drives investment.
It has faith in the future, hope and charity. There are community facilities still open today because of newspaper campaigns, people alive because of publicity relating to the funding, or provision, of lifesaving operations.
There are many who would be living in social isolation if they didn’t feel part of the broader community. There are hospices and unpaid carers and homelessness charities who know that every single paragraph of positive publicity makes all the difference between fighting for survival – and pennies turning into pounds to help fund the future.
Then there are people like me who write a column every week, far from the madding crowd, the newsroom, phones, banter and the sheer relentless grind of hitting deadlines day in night out, and miss being part of that bigger picture, the back room staff getting the front and other pages together on time.
So the other day when I picked up The Gazette, paid my 65p and heard a sales assistant grumble “there’s nothing in it,” I still found myself saying ... “I’m in it. And I’m the least of it.”
Manure on the mat
The British National Party had the rank temerity to stick my name and address on a leaflet rotten with the rhetoric of racism and have the postman deliver it to my door this week.
I don’t think I would have felt more distressed if a heap of steaming manure had been deposited on my mat. It had much the same effect.
It is bad enough to get any unsolicited political propaganda from the mainstream parties but the BNP? A party run by a man who can’t even be bothered to update the so called immigration “whistle blowing” information quoted from 2011?
Five years ago many postal workers refused to deliver BNP leaflets because they did not want to promote its far right message. Some felt it flouted their national agreement conscience clause.
The now privatised Royal Mail counters that it is legally obliged to deliver literature for all legal political parties.
Well, I know where I’d like to stick mine.
But in the absence of that option being available I shall put it right back in the post box with the message Return to Sender. Shredding is too good for it.