In the beginning was the printed word. And look, we're still here

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It was one of the most thrilling evenings of my largely misspent youth. A romantic liaison with a new boyfriend. We were eating chips and canoodling while sitting on a low wall.

All good things come to an end and – as the chips did – there it was. My vinegar-stained picture-byline was staring back at me. I’ve been in love with local newspapers ever since.

It seems like 100 years ago but no, it wasn’t quite that. I was a trainee reporter with big hopes and nervous plans. For once, in a life that has since been littered with many poor choices and some disastrously bad decisions, I made the right one.

The boyfriend, who wasn’t at all keen on the competition, was dumped and my one true love was followed without a backward glance. I’ve never regretted a single moment.

Things are different now. They don’t wrap chips in newspaper anymore and it’s no secret that local rags – as they’re disparagingly called in some quarters – are having a hard time of it.

 Anne Pickles

Anne Pickles

More than 50 per cent of people now use social media as their news source. That figure continues to rise and, while a large number of users will complain bitterly about a proliferation of fake news and blatant bias, they show no sign of being willing to change their ways.

When I was a pup a common assertion in the Pickles household used to be: “It must be right. It was in the paper.”

Don’t know about you but for me “It must be right it was on Facebook” doesn’t quite carry the same weight.

It’s Local Newspaper Week. Now drawing to a close, this has been a period for engagement with, celebration and reassessment of the role local papers play in our lives; the place they occupy in communities and the opportunities to make change they provide with genuinely relevant forums for debate, argument and campaigning.

It’s a pity only one week a year is devoted to consideration of their importance. But I suppose I would say that, wouldn’t I? The ink that comes off on your fingers – still the most common complaint – runs in my veins.

Falling advertising revenues, shrinking resources, nervous shareholders and declining sales combine to make local and regional newspapers poor business models. And, if you see them as no more than businesses, you might well shrug off their problems with a weary: “That’s the way of the new world, Dumbo. Get used to it and move on.”

But if you don’t. If you regard local information, delivered independently, professionally, with integrity and full accountability as a public service – and an entitlement – you might start to wonder where you’ll find it should you lose it.

Total reliance on online info is risky, to say the least. Access to detailed news analysis, opinion and commentary isn’t guaranteed – not by any stretch.

And how does anyone know whether they are well-informed, if they don’t know what they’re not seeing?

Forgive, please. This is no doubt a bit heavy and serious, for the start of a weekend when we’re all in the mood for some chillaxing. It’s worth a little think though – in Local Newspaper Week.

Messengers have always been shot. Firing squads are an occupational hazard – so I’ll dig out my flak jacket and prepare for the worst. We local newspaper folk know how to take the blows.

We’ll plough on though for as long as you’ll allow, because where there’s a pride in delivery to community, locality and region, there’s a will to keep on keeping on in the hope of making a difference.

And should you be tempted to scoff – again – that today’s local newspaper is tomorrow’s chip-wrapper, let me tell you before you start I wish that were the case.

Because they don’t wrap chips in inky newsprint anymore and for this besotted old hack, that’s where the thrill of true love first started.

And it still is true.

‘Don’t know about you but for me “It must be right it was on Facebook” doesn’t quite carry the same weight’

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