Long live lo­cal news

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

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

Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

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