24 April 2014

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Dyson at Large: My regional heroes of 2013

Thick grey hair, ruddy face, quarter-inch thick spectacles, a six-foot, 16-stone stature, and a voice from the Reform Club; they just don’t make heroes like they used to.

But appearances aside – and I can talk – my top hero of 2013 was Robin Burgess, the seasoned and kindly owner of the independent CN Group, publisher of the Cumberland News, the North-West Evening Mail and various other titles.

Executives from the regional newspaper world appeared to be heading sheep-like towards the digital cliff edge at the Society of Editors’ regional conference in April, but Burgess had them all gawping when he declared: “The reader must pay.”

He added: “For some time, I have thought that we can’t continue giving our content away … A subscriber is a subscriber, and if you want our service, by whatever delivery method, or through all of them, you will pay.”

As the nationals continue to debate paywalls – The Times and The Sun versus Mail Online and The Guardian – I now look forward to this regional stalwart’s stance.

Already, you can taste my heroes of 2013 are going to be alternative and, so as not to disappoint you, my second is that wonderful West Midland scribe Mike Lockley.

Lockley, who edited the weekly Chase Post before it closed, is now the colourful, enjoyable and multi award-winning columnist for the Birmingham Mail, and was slammed for perceived homophobia after writing a controversial piece about Gay Pride.

All he’d done was tease sensitive, PC-types with phrases such as “Shut that door”, “Oooh, missus” and “Widow Twankey”, in a memorable column headlined ‘I didn’t mince my words at festival!’

I read his words on the day they appeared and laughed my pink socks off along with 99pc of the Mail’s readership, but was confused and worried when some called for his head for alleged bigotry.

I needn’t have been concerned, as Lockley bounced back with a clever riposte to one complainant: “We no longer use typewriters. Even if we did, what he suggests would be physically impossible.” Brilliant.

My third hero of 2013 was Jon Stokoe, sacked as editor of the Whitby Gazette despite leading the title to an industry-rare sales increase of 2.1pc.

What I loved about Stokoe was his calm silence as the newspaper world raged about his departure; and then his revenge served cold as he began writing for the monthly Whitby Mag, despite his ex-employers trying to stop him.

I’ve just got hold of a copy of the Whitby Mag, by the way, and in its early days it’s very much an A5 ad rag, but Stokoe’s new ‘centre spread’ contributions are a treasure island of news and prose that provide the seaside town with a real local flavour.

There were, of course, many other deserving regional heroes of a more traditional kind in 2013, including:

My 10th entry goes to editor Mark Thomas for the mature, calm, selfless and motivating way he handled the closure of the Liverpool Post.

Whatever the reasons, and whoever was to blame, Mark concentrated on the important things: firstly, that any staff involved are all to be offered jobs on the Liverpool Echo; and secondly, as he wrote in his closing message to readers, that this extra resource will help the Echo “continue to fight for your interests and to uncover the important truths that officialdom would be happier to keep under wraps”.

Well said, Mark, and best wishes to you and all your staff for 2014. And a merry Christmas to all HoldtheFrontPage readers.

5 Comments

  1. streatham2

    The Hinckley Times was my childhood local paper (in the days when it was a broadsheet with classified property advertisements filling the front page, with nothing there – apart from the masthead – in anything bigger than 12pt Times). I wonder whether anyone else apart from Mitch Irving combined the job of sports reporter (sports editor?) with being theatre critic

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  2. Terence Blake

    Mr Dyson shows himself up to be the dinosaur he has become. The Birmingham Pride column referred to was nothing more than a shameless bit of gay bashing that pandered to every gay stereotype of the last 50 years. Outdated,offensive and, above all – unfunny!

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  3. James White, Whitby

    Couldn’t agree more, Jon Stokoe was a fantastic editor of our once local paper, unfortunately it is slipping into a crude off-shot of a Scarborough Paper, Jon Stokoe lives in Whitby, he cares about the town and its people, J.P are cutting off their nose to spite their face, the paper will never be the same. To be a successful editor of a local rag you must be a local. Merry Christmas to all your readers.

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  4. Part-time Hack

    Let’s get this straight. Your heroes of the year include a homophobe whose ‘humour’ dates from the 70s and Ray Tindle, who still hasn’t got over the war? No wonder local newspapers are screwed.

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  5. Cynic

    While we may admire the stance of Mr Burgess regarding his view “readers must pay”, it should also be pointed out the CN group lost substantial amounts of money again this year – as it did last year.
    With no criticism of Mr Burgess intended (his views regarding pay walls are simple common sense) perhaps Mr Dyson might have been better identifying newspapers and organisations which actually made a profit.
    Perhaps one of the reasons this industry is in such decline is because, as can be witnessed at endless industry awards, we applaud titles for their supposed editorial creativity, and ignore the fact they are losing readers, and money, at an alarming rate.

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