Long live local news
THANK goodness for local newspapers, not least at the present time, when 24-hour news, constant digital updates, social media, wars and even rumours of wars make national and international news increasingly irritating and depressing. That’s certainly not true of our local papers, where it’s possible to get all the news you really want: what goes on in the neighbouring village, the affairs of the county town, prospects for local farmers and whether some local celebrity has tied the knot. These are all unmissably important rural matters.
It’s our community and we need to know what’s going on. This is all a matter of connection: people you know or whose family your family knows, villages you grew up in and places that are so familiar that you’d notice even the smallest change. It’s the stuff of country life. It’s what cements the community and gives that common basis to our conversation that so many urbanites have lost.
As a result, losing a local paper is a serious thing, the more so when yours is a small, scattered and often isolated community. That’s why the news from the Scottish borders of the survival of the Eskdale & Liddesdale Advertiser is so heartwarming. Familyowned Cumbria Newspapers Group had been struggling for years to make the paper pay. Indeed, most companies would have given up long ago, but, happily, the Burgess family is the majority shareholder.
The company’s been there since The Patriot amalgamated with The Cumberland News, more than 150 years ago and the family wasn’t about to give up, so, instead of closing the paper down, the Burgesses determined to find a means of rescue.
This wasn’t an easy task as, with a paid-for circulation of only 1,200 and covering some of the most distant countryside and dramatic scenery in the border country, the Advertiser has but one real town, Langholm, in Dumfriesshire. Beyond, there are picturesque villages such as Boot and Newcastleton, some in England and some in Scotland. The newspaper has a limited market, yet plays a vital role ensuring that people in these remote places don’t feel left out and can keep in touch with local news and views.
In the event, the former head of another family business stepped in to help. David Stevenson lives in Langholm, where his family company, which now owns Edinburgh Woollen Mill, was headquartered. Already a considerable local benefactor, he gathered a group of other enthusiasts and, last week, the Eskdale & Liddesdale was handed over to the Community Interest Company he heads. Local people now own and run their local paper because Cumbria Newspapers was determined to do its best for the area in which it had operated for so long.
This hasn’t been the experience of people in other parts of the country. Last year, newspaper readers in Sussex woke up to be told the Trinity Mirror-run Crawley News would close immediately; in Northampton, that the Herald & Post was dead; and in Bedfordshire, Luton on Sunday had gone, as had Buckinghamshire’s Milton Keynes ONEMK. None of these papers was very profitable, but it’s sad that Trinity Mirror—having bought most of them two years ago—didn’t have Cumbria Newspapers’ commitment.
Country people know just how much local benefactors can contribute to the communities where they live and where they’ve made their livelihood. Community Interest Companies provide an excellent halfway house between charity and commerce. Saving the Eskdale & Liddesdale Advertiser is a prime example of what can be done and it’s an example we should adopt far more widely— and not only in newspaper production.
‘It’s our community and we need to know what’s going on
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