Methinks there are more than a few old-fashioned hacks who hanker after days when broadsheet newspapers owned by local families ruled the roost in regional towns.
And so, just for them, I meandered down to Shakespeare country to pick up a copy of the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, a title that in many ways is frozen in time.
Just look at the traditional layout, archaic masthead, detailed headlines and the sheer amount of copy on page one on 3 March 2011.
My own favourite element of this paper has always been the carefully-crafted introductions tapped out by the brilliantly-named Preston Witts, his style easily defying the modern-day rule of ‘no more than 25-words’ for an intro.
Try these 36 words from the royal splash on page one: “Excitement about the Queen’s visit to Stratford tomorrow (Friday) gathered pace this week as inquiries flooded in about where – and at what time – people would stand the best chance of getting a glimpse of the monarch.”
Or these 39 words from the page two lead: “Five members of the ruling Conservative group on Stratford District Council abstained in the vote on the budget at the full council meeting on Monday because of their concerns about the effects of a £1.8m cut in spending.”
Or these 43 words from the page three lead: “Residents who thought they’d finally seen the end of an ‘eyesore fence’ by the Shell garage in Evesham Road, Stratford, had a shock when they discovered at the end of last week that another fence had been put there – at half the height.”
Each example carries the no-holds-barred poise of a correspondent who knows his intro has the best chance of grabbing readers by giving the impression of telling the whole story – while in reality drawing them in with intrigue.
Herald readers are lucky to have such experience: Witts began in Stratford for The Birmingham Post in 1968 before heading to Parliament for Central Press and the BBC; he went on to present alongside Alastair Stewart on Southern Television in the 1970s, then entering PR; and now, in his mid-60s, he’s back in the town where he started.
His assured presence, I’m sure, helps other reporters to write with belief on topics that might be considered with disdain by some young hacks, but are allowed to shine with detail in the Herald.
An example is another story from page one on plans for a 22,000-panel ‘solar park’, reporter Rebekah Smith taking care to collect the most interesting objections.
“These things actually need quite major security fencing around them,” said Cllr Tony Copeland, “therefore it wouldn’t just be a few shiny things nestling in a field but spiky railings along the side of the road.”
Oh no, spiky railings! Other gems included a page three story highlighting leading actors – including Judi Dench – objecting to a house extension overlooking the River Avon; and on page four, councillors were reported to the police for “using the council’s official letterhead without consent”.
I was then wowed by the lay-out of the ‘Letters’ section on page six, at first glance a Lego-style tower but somehow still beautiful, filled with earnest yet readable contributions from the pillars of local society
Top of the letters pile was a call to arms over a ‘Dog Poo Alley’; then came an RAF veteran who served in Iraq decrying cuts to the armed services; and, amongst others, the leader of Stratford District Council sticking up for his £10,125 ‘allowance’ for a 50-hour week.
Turning to the village reports on page 11, I smiled at the Herald’s ‘Parish Pump’ title before scouring the four-point copy in search of a gem, this tiny report from Kineton village catching my eye:
“The long-running saga of the Old Library railings is over. At last these railings in the centre of the conservation area, which have been such an eyesore for so long, have finally been repaired and reinstated. All they need now is a coat of paint. However, there is a sad irony to this story, as the library has moved to the village hall and could close in July.”
In the back end, three pages of varied sport included a decent rugby section, with athletics, swimming, shooting, table tennis, darts, squash, snooker, hockey, netball, indoor bowls and scuba diving accompanying local cricket and football.
The main book had a total of 16 broadsheet pages, carrying 113 news and features stories and 44 sports reports; there were another 22 broadsheet pages making up the packed property section, and a 52-page ‘Focus’ glossy mag, largely containing colour ads with a few soft features.
Not bad value for a cover price of 50p, probably kept low by the presence of ad-hungry opposition: the Stratford Observer is a Bullivant Media free weekly that would give its right arm for the property.
Family-owned since it was first published in 1860, the Herald stands out as a paper that believes in its strength and history and is unwilling to change for the sake of modernity alone. Even its website looks and feels like a broadsheet.
It has not entirely escaped the recession, owners George Bowden & Son Ltd announcing a 30pc cut in editorial staffing last year.
But it is still the main media in town, selling 13,498 a week with some impressive penetration figures.
Long may it prosper and live up to the quote from the Bard it displays beneath its masthead: “I wish no other Herald, no other speaker of my living actions.”