Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Regional Press: Reasons to be cheerful Part 4*

LIKE a lot of the ex-editor brigade – and there are now enough of us for a whole regiment – I’ve followed events in the regional Press with a mix of sadness, bemusement and more than a little irritation.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: The Northern Scot pool car in Elgin
Of course I was saddened to see my old stomping ground of weekly papers in the south-east dismantled and excellent editors (no coincidence that they are all lovely people too) dispensed with.
And seeing once proud papers reduced to following the crowd online – “Watch this dog lick an ice lolly!!” – makes me fear for the future of journalism as we know it.
But all is not lost. As I wrote on this blog in October 2014 after an expedition to a bunch of papers in Ireland, Journalism is still fun. I’ve just completed two humbling weeks in the Scottish Highlands and there is still a lot to be cheerful about.
Here are some headlines:

It isn’t all about young people 

There were some lovely trainees and people making their way up the greasy ladder but there were more journalists near, and even beyond, what we used to call ‘retirement age’. The years have done nothing to dim their enthusiasm and the experience and maturity they bring doesn’t often get listed in a job ad.

No need to go back to basics 

Some are already there. When I asked one dapper gentleman what he did at the paper he proudly replied: “I’m the court reporter.” No lists of mad, sad and bad people provided by some court official here, just stories by the bucketload. So, be warned, if you get caught waving your willy around anywhere from Macduff to Tomintoul you’ll probably end up in the paper.

The one-person office is alive and well 

The places where people worked read like the lower reaches of the Highland League table – Buckie, Keith, Huntly etc – and it was charming to find they rejoiced under the title ‘Chief Reporter’. Most of the time they were ‘Only Reporter’ filling the paper single-handedly from front to back and all points in between. And they approached that task with deftness, expertise and a sense of responsibility.

Remember staff photographers? 

In all the rush to dispense with the staff photographers and replace them with freelancers who bear an uncanny resemblance to the displaced staffers we seem to have lost sight of what having an in-house team can bring. The gala season is in full swing in Scotland so the papers are full of people doing whatever it is you do at a gala – but they all seem to be having fun. They love seeing themselves in the paper and also like to have a pictures to keep. Yes, photosales is alive and well too.

It's not all about the money 

Ok, so we all want what we want and need what we need but there is more to it than that. These folk in the Highlands were actually quite a disparate bunch, some from all parts of Scotland and others further afield in the UK. They were drawn by the opportunity to live in a lovely part of the world and contribute to making the wheels go round in their communities. Not sure money can buy that. 

I have been asked to contribute a chapter to a book due be published early next year called ‘Is Print Dying?’ The suggested title I’ve been given ‘Is the local press destined for the knacker’s yard?'.
Uhm, maybe not quite time to reach for the gluepot just yet…

* Headline in homage to Ian Dury, the original Billericay Dickie, or was that me...?