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Long-serving editor bows out with faith in the future of newspapers

One of the longest editorships in the regional daily press ended yesterday when Peter Butterfield retired from the Lancashire Evening Telegraph.

He had been in charge of the Blackburn-based Newsquest title for 15 years – a period he described as the highlight of his journalistic career.

“It’s the best job in the paper, running your own ship and doing things the way you want to do them,” he said.

“I’ve enjoyed having an influence in the community and being able to comment on things and have people listen to what you say. I’ve met many, many interesting people and been to places and done things that a lot of people would only dream about.”

Mr Butterfield (57) began his career with the Gateshead Post. He went on to work for the Newcastle Chronicle and Journal and the Reading Evening Post, including a spell as crime reporter, and became news editor and then chief sub-editor of the Evening Post-Echo, Hemel Hempstead, before joining the Lancashire Evening Telegraph for the first time, in 1980, as assistant editor. He was appointed deputy editor of the Western Mail three years later and returned to Blackburn as editor in 1985.

In a career of few lows and more highs than he can remember, he flew with the Red Arrows and was invited to Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street.

He met most members of the Royal Family, as well as three Prime Ministers, and even “had a pee with Tony Blair” – both were attending a function when they found themselves at neighbouring urinals and began chatting.

In recent months, he so enjoyed waging war against council secrecy that he began having second thoughts about retirement. The Telegraph’s campaign resulted in Blackburn and Darwen council changing its mind about plans to introduce secret cabinet meetings.

“They got hammered in the polls and complained on election night that it was the Evening Telegraph that had done it. I thought ‘absolutely wonderful’!”

He is particularly proud to have introduced the Telegraph’s Grimewatch campaign 11 years ago, before the environment became a fashionable issue. Under his leadership, the paper also became the first regional evening title to put daily-updated pages on the Internet.

Building up the paper’s local news content has been another hallmark of his leadership. The 60 editorial staff are now backed by 267 community correspondents, who provide “some fantastic tip-offs”.

Despite the huge growth of Internet news services, Mr Butterfield does not fear for the future of newspapers.

“I can’t say definitely that in 20 years’ time there will still be evening newspapers around but 20 years ago, two colleagues were leaving to go to Teletext and they said to me then: ‘You want to get out of newspapers, they will be dead in three years’.

“We are still here. It’s still a profitable business. You can still see the big companies who are investing and spending a lot of money on newspapers. I know the Internet has come and it’s the new media but, at the end of the day, I do believe that we are a tactile breed and we just like flicking through newspapers, and there’s no better way of getting information than from a newspaper.

“Until they can make a computer that you can fold up and swat a fly with, and if you drop it it won’t break, and you can take it to the loo with you, I think we will always have newspapers. “

Mr Butterfield said he would not have changed a minute of his time in journalism. “I’ve had great fun. You have got to get a buzz out of what you are doing and I’ve never ever got up in the morning and thought: ‘Oh ****, I’ve got to go to work.”

More than anything, he will miss his colleagues. “I’ve worked with some great people. I’ve had a blooming good team at the Telegraph, and a leader is only as good as his team.”

So why is he calling it a day?

“A couple of years ago, I began to think: ‘Do I really want to be sitting editing the Telegraph when I’m 65?’ and I thought ‘no’. I need to get out while I’m still young enough to do something else. I’ve still got a lot of good years left in me.

“I’m going off to do other things. It’s just a new chapter.”

For now, he is keeping his plans to himself, though he has ruled out retiring gracefully to his garden in the Ribble Valley. He has also assured wife Eve that he won’t be hitting the road as a professional musician – an option he seriously considered before entering journalism.

“Let’s just say I’ve had one or two interesting phone calls and my name will still crop up occasionally.”

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