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Historian charts rise and fall of hyperlocal weekly

A freelance historian has written a series of blog posts about the history of a pioneering North-East newspaper.

More than 20 decades before the term ‘hyperlocal’ had been thought of, former Hexham Courant editor Michael Sharman set up the Ponteland Observer to cover a prosperous village outside Newcastle.

The paper ran as an independent weekly from 1982-84 before being bought-out by the Tweedale Press Group following Mr Sharman’s suicide.

Two years later Tweedale – now part of Johnston Press – merged the title with the Morpeth Herald, although 26 years on, the words ‘Incorporating the Ponteland Observer’ still appear in the Herald’s masthead.

Historian Matthew Kilburn, who grew up in the area, has now charted the story of the short-lived title in a six-part series of blog posts.

He says he was initially inspired to write the series by the reaction to JP chief executive Ashley Highfield’s plans to close several newspaper offices in the region.

Said Matthew:  “The Ponteland Observer was first published when I was eleven and closed when I was fifteen. The idea of someone attempting a newspaper in Ponteland, and one which at first took advantage of what was then ‘new technology’ to create a product whose production standards were higher than those of the Northumberland Gazette or the Hexham Courant, caught my imagination, and I ended up holding on to several issues.

“I thought that though the circumstances of the local press have been transformed over the last three decades, the story of the paper might contribute to thinking on hyperlocalism.

“Personally, I was connected with the paper through my contributions to ‘HighLights’, the Ponteland High School newspaper which was a supplement to first the Observer and then, for a couple of years after the merger, the Morpeth Herald.

“I intend to do more research and produce a more scholarly version of the article which I will seek to place elsewhere.  I think that newspaper history – tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapping, as it once was – is a neglected area, certainly at the local level.”

The full series of blog posts can be read here:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six