Hold the front page of your so called declining local weekly newspaper: rumours of it’s death are greatly exaggerated!!

July 24, 2010

To bastardise Mark Twain, rumours of the death of the local newspaper are greatly exaggerated, as this week two local rags secured scoops and exclusive interviews with Paul Gascoine and Mick Jagger. At a time when the local and regional press  is reportedly greatly threatened by the dynamic immediacy and fastmoving rolling TV news channels, internet and social media, this week two local newspapers in the South fought back with national “Red Top” / tabloid style celebrity interviews.

One regional newspaper reporter scored an exclusive in-depth interview with England football legend Paul Gascoine after tracking him down at a local rehab centre; meanwhile another put her local rag centre stage with an interview with Mick Jagger after keeping  him in detention in the Headmaster’s study at his old school. What this demonstrates is that the traditional newshound, a fusion of sleuth and scribe, is still very much alive and well and living in close proximity to the chip shop, off licence and dry cleaners on a high street, in a provincial town near you.

Julie Magee, from Bournemouth’s Daily Echo, managed to secure the interview with Paul Gascoine after good old fashioned investigative journalism led her to where he was being treated for alcoholism.  She approached the manager of the rehab centre, a long-standing local contact, after a story in The Sun alleged the ex-footballer had groped a shop assistant in the town after falling off the wagon. Within minutes, the manager had returned the call to say Gazza was happy to be interviewed to put the record straight about ‘lies’ being told about him in the national press. In the event, Gascoine gave a lengthy interview which became a front page lead and a 20-minute video interview on the Echo’s website.   During the interview, he defended himself against the tabloid allegations and spoke about why he showed up at the standoff between police and Raoul Moat, whom he knew.

Meanwhile, in a slightly more protracted, drawn out “scoop”, a weekly news paper editor has finally secured an interview with rock legend Mick Jagger seven years after first putting in the request. Clearly everything comes to those who wait! Melody Foreman, group editor of the Archant-owned Kentish Times, first asked for an interview with the Dartford-born Rolling Stones frontman in 2003. When the Rolling Stone made a surprise visit to his old home town, he finally agreed to an interview with the local journalist. The interview appeared in this week’s Dartford and Swanley Times while the rival Dartford Messenger carried a double-page spread with video and audio clips of the visit on its website.

Melody Foreman had just a few hours notice of the interview after Sir Mick Jagger revealed he was visiting his old school, Dartford Grammar School, and an adjoining arts centre named after him. It was in the headmaster’s study that Melody Foreman and the Dartford Messenger’s Danny Boyle “cornered” the rock star.

What these two anecdotes prove categorically is that despite dropping circulations, the local and regional print press are holding their own with the much larger national and international media players. This is imperative for two reasons. Firstly despite the need for instaneous news via the rolling TV and radio news media and the internet, the local newspaper and it’s website serves a vital role giving us all a much needed contact with our local communities. Secondly the “local rag” trains and grooms the national newspaper and television investigative journalists of tomorrow.

So when it comes to prophesies of gloom and doom with regard to the future of our local newspaper, “hold the front page” for a year or two yet. There is still life in the old traditional newshound!!

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