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Editor’s lament for his hometown paper

The editor of the Belfast Telegraph has penned a heartfelt lament for one of the two Kent weeklies closed by Northcliffe Media this week.

Mike Gilson grew up in Chatham where the Medway News was the local ‘newspaper of record.’

In a first-person piece published in his own paper today, Mike says the loss of his hometown paper will “leave a void the blogosphere can never fill.”

Here is his piece in full.


Even though I love it here, I’m not from here. I was born in Chatham, Kent. Together with Rochester, Strood and Gillingham, Chatham forms the Medway towns, a fairly dreary conurbation with Rochester’s lovely castle, cathedral, the river and pubs its saving grace. If Kent is the garden of England, wags used to say, Medway is the compost heap.

But it’s not memory lane that concerns me about my home town(s) — it’s the future. You see, they’re closing the Medway News, or the Chatham Gillingham and Rochester News, as it used to be known.

The News, or Snooze as my Dad called it, was our paper of record. In yellowing cuttings in my parents’ attic, I’m there with long, hippy hair looking slightly sullen among cheering neighbours during our streets’ Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977.

I’m also there (although called Gibson) scoring 25 runs in vain as the Medway Telephones cricket team lost again. My parents’ silver and golden wedding anniversaries are similarly recorded and stored.

I tried to get my first job there, but the editor, a local legend called Gerald Hinks, rightly told me to go away and get more life experience.

Lance Morgan has been reporting on the downs and occasional mild highs of the mighty Gillingham FC almost since they wore black and white strips and were called New Brompton. This week he helped produce the final edition.

Closing the News is a terrible blow for the town — and not just for old hacks on a nostalgia trip.

Here’s the real news. When the newspaper goes, there’ll be hardly anyone left to report on the hopes, fears and concerns of around 300,000 people. The BBC will not cover the place in the depth the newspapers do and the ITV channels less so.

Here’s another bit of news. People in Medway are not keeping up to date with the issues surrounding the towns by calling up bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers.

There aren’t many bloggers sitting in the town hall, or the magistrate’s courts, lifting the rocks to find out what’s underneath and they certainly aren’t recording the village fetes and golden weddings that portray how a community binds itself together.

And the rub is that, in spite of the opinions of an army of self-appointed experts on future media, newspapers, in all their inky glory, still have a role to play in places like the Medway towns.

The half-witted opinions that fill much of cyberspace will simply not fill the gap. The democratic deficit that will appear is real.

I’m not a fantasist. I know some newspapers now barely deserve to be saved and that digital technologies have opened up a wondrous world for us.

But a local newspaper, full of surprises and quirkiness, topped off with a couple of hacks determined not to let the council leader get away with it, and an odd campaign against the by-pass thrown in, can still be a marvellous life-force in our towns and cities.

I know very little about the circumstances behind the paper’s closure and, indeed, it is none of my business. I do know a takeover bid by a rival group was scuppered by the boneheads of the Competition Commission, whose committee room hearings must have taken place a Mars trip away from the real world.

I simply talk as a consumer, whose family still lives in the towns. A newspaper gone is gone forever. Yet my hunch is that a locally owned title, focused so far down into the grassroots you could smell the earth and full of the community detritus that has always filled local papers, could turn a tidy profit for years to come.

The Leveson inquiry has heard some heart-rending testimony from real people who were the victims of crimes. But as it wends its increasingly bizarre way through a galaxy of whingeing stars and axe-grinders, the real story is occurring in Medway. The future star batsmen of Medway Telephones will unlikely ever have their misspelt names thrust into the local limelight. That is genuinely sad.

9 comments

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  • December 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm
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    very nice piece Mike. Having trained on now defunct weekly newspapers in South Wales, couldn’t agree more.

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  • December 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm
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    Mike, I’ve never met you and it was probably me who called you Gibson (assuming the game was played post 1970) and I firmly believe you are 100 per cent correct. My feeling is everyone talking about new technology – aps, internet, i- phones et al – are ignoring probably 30 per cernt of the population. Most people over the age of 50 either a) doesn’t have an i-phone, doesn’t know an ap from a piece of string and switches on the computer only to send an email to relatives in Timbuktoo. For news they need local newspapers. And preferably two because people need opinions other than those from journalists who take the town hall line for advertising purposes.
    It has been my privilege to serve the Towns through what I consider the best newspaper in Kent. I have made many, many friends inside and outside of the business, but because of the business. End of an era? Most definitely. Shame on those who have, over the years, brought local newspapers to their knees.
    I only hope there is a place, other than via “new tech” to read the news for our children’s children.
    By the way, Mike. Thanks for your email. I was touched.

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  • December 9, 2011 at 9:26 am
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    Totally agree with everything Mike has said. Local and regional newspapers are the lifeblood of communities; their closures are so sad. New technology plays it’s part in spreading the word but not all news/views etc goes online

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  • December 9, 2011 at 9:59 am
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    Well said Mike. Glad to see you haven’t forgotten your roots and still appreciate the value of good, honest and accurate local journalism. Best wishes.

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  • December 9, 2011 at 11:44 am
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    Saw this article through a Linkedin journalist colleague & reminded me very much of a similiar situation in my hometown back in the late 70s early 80s.

    My area was covered by The Morpeth Gazette, The Blyth News & The Ashington Post.

    The Gazette is still in existance, but the latter two broadsheet style papers grace the local chip shop no more!

    But all was not lost!

    A local, single page, Freesheet emerged from the ashes & gradually increased it`s editorial content to become The Newspost Leader of today.

    ITV local news content is also being eroded away so much you have to think, what happens when that`s all gone?

    All is not lost yet again. Step up to the plate Community Radio.

    I believe that these stations, which could cover areas such as Northumberland are the answer.

    Look out for Bedlington based Synergy in the new year.

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  • December 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm
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    About 75 per cent of news stories in our national newspapers are lifted or followed up from regional papers like the Medway News. Bloggers, twitterers and websites then copy and paste these stories from the national newspapers. If local newspapers continue to shut down at the current rate, this ‘mine’ of information could be shut for good. And what will take it’s place? More press releases from the police, council, schools, quangos etc stating how good they are.

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  • December 9, 2011 at 4:39 pm
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    Mike Gilson (a literal waiting to happen) presents a case for local papers that’s both affectionate and cautionary. An important assessment of newspaper life today. Just think … if Mike had taken me on when he had the chance a few years ago, the old Kent boy and this old Sussex lad could have tied up the south-east to good effect! Best wishes, Mike.

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  • December 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm
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    Gilson scoring 25 runs? Gilson? I don’t believe it. Couldn’t bat for toffees.

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  • December 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm
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    Re Lance Morgan’s point on technology – I’ll surely be shouted down for quoting statistics but, what the heck, I’ll give it a go anyway.

    82% of adults in the UK now use the internet on a regular basis and 60% of the adult population go online every day.

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