WHEN I was ranting about the potholes in our country road a few weeks ago, a reader suggested contacting the local media to get some action. The trouble is that there is no local media to speak of any more.
Local papers used to be the training ground for the national press, which now takes trainees direct from university with little or no relevant experience. Every magistrates’ court hearing was covered, every council committee and full council meeting, every inquest. We would go in person every morning to the police station, fire station and ambulance station to ask what had happened overnight. We put in the lists of planning applications and decisions, and the late chemists’ rota. We went to the maternity hospitals to picture the babies born on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. In the summer we would go to garden fetes, in November to the Remembrance services. On any topic of the day we would go into the streets and ask citizens for their views, which we would print with pictures. We went to funerals and waited at the door for the mourners to come out and give their names, then printed the list. We covered all the local sport fixtures. And that was only the backbone of the paper. We were encouraged to find our own stories by talking to people. Other stories would come our way from people calling into the office on the High Street or phoning us, or we would find them from the Births, Marriages and Deaths column. There was a network of village correspondents (unpaid) who would supply items on jumble sales, WI meetings and gardening club outings. The mantra was ‘Names make news’ because anyone mentioned in the paper (favourably, not court cases) would go out and buy six copies to send to grannies and other relatives.
When the weekly paper came out everyone would read it on publication day, so they all knew what was going on in their town or village, and they would talk about it. The paper provided a shared focus and reinforced a sense of community.
Compare that with today. Our local paper is the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times, which boasts ‘Since 1868’ on its titlepiece. When I first knew the paper 30-odd years ago its office was a few doors from the Post Office on one of the main streets, where it had been since the 1900s. There were four full-time staff, including the editor and news editor, and seven part-time. In 2013 it moved to a less prominent business premises, and the staff were reduced to two full-time and four part-time. After only two years the operation decamped to Burnley to share town centre offices with a sister paper, the Burnley Express. In 2017 the office moved to a business centre on the outskirts of Burnley. By that point there was one member of staff dedicated to Clitheroe, working four days a week. There was no editor or news editor for the title. That one reporter left a month ago, so now the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times is produced by a handful of staff on a shoestring who are also working on other titles in the group.
There is a website, but it is headed ‘Burnley Express’ and has very little Clitheroe content.
Although I can’t find out historical circulation figures, in its heyday the Advertiser is likely to have had, in the parlance, 100 per cent penetration; in other words it was taken by every household in its area. Some papers, I think including the Aberdeen Press and Journal, had more than 100 per cent because some households took two copies. Now, in an area with a population of 60,000, the print circulation of the Clitheroe Advertiser is 1,400. It costs £1.60 for 38 pages, with a total of 12 ‘news stories’ and six pages of nationally syndicated puzzles. Frankly I am surprised they sell that many.
Here are this week’s front and back pages.
You see what they do here? Big pictures (out of focus – the trees in the background are sharper), big headlines, so no need for much copy. (Incidentally the back page caption reads: ‘Action from Clitheroe’s trip to Skelmersdale United’. Unfortunately the match was against Runcorn Linnets. Still, who cares? It’s close enough.)
Every story in the paper is a press release or handout – an Easter holiday programme for children, a donation of books to a school from a builder developing an estate of horrible little houses, the result of a survey of town centres by a ‘strategic retail property consultancy’. These all stories that someone wants you to know about. But the point of journalism is to publish a healthy proportion of stories that someone does not want you to know about. There is no coverage of local government matters, without which, I am afraid to say, there are multiple opportunities for chicanery. Court and inquest coverage is essential for transparency. (The prospect of being in the paper for shoplifting or flashing was a big deterrent.) As for times of church services or library hours, forget it. I don’t think it is far-fetched to contend that the absence of a central source of information available to all has contributed to a decline in sense of community, with fewer people interested in the place where they live and fewer willing to volunteer or get involved.
There are many reasons for the demise of the local press. Often the BBC is blamed because of the coverage given on its websites. Actually for once I don’t think that is quite fair – the BBC websites cover big stories but not in much detail and they don’t give the nuts and bolts of local affairs. More to blame I think are greedy proprietors who used to make a lot of money from the classified, property and car ads. They tried to maximise the revenue by squeezing the costs of staff and premises, then the rug was pulled from under their feet when the internet took the ads. How much longer before the Clitheroe Advertiser and its counterparts all around the country are put out of their misery?
The Sheep of the Week is the Southdown, requested by ‘johnthebridge’ who describes it as ‘noble’. He said: ‘I like the haircut and the furrowed brow look.’
The Southdown is the oldest of the ‘Downs’ group which includes Shropshires, Hampshires, Oxfords and Suffolks. It was originally bred by John Ellman of Glynde, near Lewes in East Sussex, in about 1800. Its main use is for meat.
It is the smallest British breed and has a blocky body shape with heavy muscling in the hindquarters and loin. The face is wide and covered with wool, as are the legs. There are no horns.
Here is a video:
You can read more about the breed at the Southdown Sheep Society.
The Southdown was popular until the early 20th century when demand turned to larger animals. Farmers therefore selectively bred them larger. In 1986 a man named Robert Mock realised that the original small sheep had almost disappeared and started searching for specimens. After several years he had amassed about 350, and to distinguish them from the larger ones he called them Babydoll Southdowns. They are now popular as pets and for their wool, which is exceptionally good for hand spinning.
You can read more about them at the Olde English ‘Babydoll’ Southdown Sheep Registry.
Here is a video aiming to show the difference between the two varieties.
Finally, don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.