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Dyson at Large – A real family newspaper

It was with some trepidation that I started thumbing through the Newark Advertiser, a local newspaper steeped in tradition and history.

Roger Parlby, the residing editor-in-chief and chairman of the company that publishes the title, first started working for the paper in 1941.

Yep, that’s 69 years ago, which puts Mr Parlby (I can’t help but address him as such) in his 80s and still going strong!

His father, Cyril Parlby, had become editor on the same paper in 1930 and remained so for an incredible 37 years until 1967, when Mr Parlby junior took over the chair.

Mr Parlby senior had himself taken over from his uncle, Mr J C Kew, editor a mere 23 years since 1907 – which means just three members of the family have controlled the Advertiser for the last 103 years. You can click here for a full history of the title.

So just who am I to even think about offering would-be wise words of review about a newspaper and company with such experienced management?

Fortunately, such devoted family owners don’t see it that way themselves; only this summer they employed the services of industry specialist Peter Sands in a redesign of their beloved Advertiser.

The result is a modern look and feel – but with content that gives the game away that this is a newspaper that cares deeply about how it fills every column inch.

Although Roger still holds the editor-in-chief title, he actually gave way to a hands-on editor back in 1984, a position now held by Chris Prime.

And Prime clearly instils the importance of quality in his journalists, with every paragraph from intros to captions subject to painstaking care and attention that have become a rare pleasure to see in local newspapers in 2010.

‘Word-perfect’ is the phrase I’d use, and if you can manage to read the copy on page one you’ll see what I mean.

‘Party sparks mass brawl’ was the splash on 4 November, a talk-of-the-town story that involved a mass brawl after a fall-out at a family party, with people arming themselves with golf clubs and hammers.

Other news stories that caught my eye included ‘Landmark defaced by swastika scrawl’ on page six and ‘Hundreds pay tribute to fallen Polish airmen’, both local incidents or events described in textbook-style reports that carried answers to every ‘what, who, where, when, why and how’ you could imagine.

Quote upon quote from named people appeared in almost all stories throughout the Advertiser, with one section even titled ‘Names in the news’ to drive home the point.

The strong community feel was continued with as many as 13 letters crammed into little more than a page of correspondence, and a total of 88 adverts placed in the BMDs section on pages 74 and 75.

Even the ‘Wedding Days’ section on page 12 contained copy that had obviously been written as stories by a journalist working to a style and word-count demanded by the desk – all three detailed reports were between 126 and 130 words long.

In fact, my only content criticism is that despite the presence of numerous stories from council and neighbourhood meetings, I could only find two short stories from Newark Magistrates Court.

Given the continued coverage of a campaign to keep that court open, and with the paper’s editorial lamenting what would be “a disgrace to local justice” if it closed, you’d have thought more cases might have been reported.

Indeed, surely the Advertiser of all papers could be expected to carry a weekly ‘In the courts’ column of magistrates’ convictions as has become a common and fascinating read in so many local newspapers.

That aside, there were 145 reads on 31 news and features pages, plus four pages carrying seven days’ TV and radio listings, a puzzles page, the best part of a page carrying a ‘Diary’ of local entertainments and events, and a ‘Junior Advertiser’ page for kids.

And there were another 30+ stories in five pages of sport, many of them wrapping up multiple short reports of various matches in the same leagues.

I’m sure the Advertiser’s revenues have been hit like everyone else’s by the recession, but my perusal showed a fair bit of commercial activity still in place.

In an 80-page paper, there were 11 pages of property advertising, another 11 pages of motoring adverts and eight pages of classifieds, plus more than 80 display ads through the book.

The weekly title’s circulation is independently audited, the most recent figures I found recording an average sale of 18,860 in 2009.

As to the future, it looks like the family tradition will continue even when Mr Parlby junior finally retires: his daughter Joanna Parlby is currently serving as managing director.

  • Sex-ad rating: 10 out of ten, of course… this is a family newspaper in every sense of the word!

    Read Steve’s previous blog posts here

  • Steve Dyson worked in the regional press for 20 years, editing weekly, Sunday and daily newspapers in the North East and the Midlands from 2002 until the end of 2009. To contact him, email

    Steve’s blog is available via an RSS feed. Click here to subscribe.


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    • November 24, 2010 at 5:05 pm

      Packed with news, decent sales, decent ad revenue (even in the midst of a downtrun which is hastening the demise of many newspapers)…and family-owned rather than part of a big group. A lesson there, then….

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    • November 25, 2010 at 5:27 pm

      Lots of names in the news …. pages of BMDs …. reporters doing a proper job of neighbourhood news …. sigh. Excuse me getting all wistful and nostalgic, having worked for years under two of the biggest groups, where such genuine local quality is daily becoming a more distant memory.

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