So there I was, holed up in a cosy room above a real ale pub in a sleepy Welsh town for a short Brecon Beacons walking holiday.
I’d wandered out to the newsagents to buy my fix of local newsprint, fully expecting to read all about the area’s hearty male voice choirs, award-winning sheep farmers and tough rugby players.
And that’s when I realised that even in the remotest, quietest country spots, give a team of good local journalists a chance to find great stories and they will.
‘Harassed author’s hedgehog horror’ was the Thursday 5 April splash in The Brecon and Radnor Express, the full-sized broadsheet weekly that dominated the newsstand.
The story told how a man harassed his ex-girlfriend – a famous Breconshire author – by, among other things, posting a dead hedgehog through her letterbox. Nice.
But what I really liked about this tale was how reporter Matthew Jones told it in true, old-fashioned journalistic style: a full, 27-par report from Brecon Law Courts, with the names of all parties, solicitors and ‘chair of the bench’, the detailed incidents, full quotes from the victim and mitigation.
He even thought to include the victim Adele Nozedar’s book titles – Freaky Dreams and The Secret Language of Birds.
This was no one-off hard news event for the Express, with other headline-grabbers including ‘Landowner opposed to Gypsy sale’ on page two, ’21st birthday assault’ on page three, ‘£800 cocaine thrown during police chase’ and ‘Man beat pregnant partner’ on page four.
There was fun too: ‘Hannah hopes to be the face and body of lingerie line’ was the page three picture story, complete with cheeky pictures of ‘simply bursting’ local 19-year-old Hannah Griffin.
And yes, in and amongst the 70+ stories on 12 news pages, I did find the staple diet I’d expected: ‘Healing the wounds’ on page ten reporting on Talgarth Male Choir raising funds for a local charity; and ‘New Championships for Royal Welsh Show’ on page 11 telling me all I wanted to know about 43 local sheep breeds.
This traditional title, now owned by Tindle Newspapers, had a good blend of hard and soft news, a spot of titillation mixed nicely with important community stories, another 18 rugby, football, hockey, netball, running, golf and fishing reports on two sports pages in the 20-page main paper.
The package was completed with two eight-page tabloid pull-outs, the ‘Property Express’ and ‘The Brecon Advertiser & Diary’ together producing a thickness that felt just about right for the 55p cover price.
By chance, the edition I bought carried the report on the death of Ted Griffiths, the journalist who had worked for more than 50 years on the Express, including an amazing 35 years as editor until 1993.
It was in this report that I found cracking glimpses of life as a committed editor of a rural paper, some of which appeared in Holdthefrontpage’s tribute earlier this month.
But other snippets worth recording here included his son, Philip, commenting on his dad’s job: “The paper was the centre of the community and he was as well because he represented the paper.
“I remember when he had to come back one night with five or six bundles of the paper and get them to the newspaper shop in Llangammarch and there was about six or seven Landrovers outside, all farmers and their wives waiting for the newspaper.”
Another came from former colleague Malcolm Morris who said: “During Ted’s time as editor, no story was too small as Ted knew that the more names and faces in the paper the more people would want to read it, and that is still the case today.”
In truth, beyond its splash headline, the Express was not the most exciting looking paper: its design was a bit clunky and its size unwieldy. But its six-strong editorial team seem to serve it well from their base in Brecon, Powys, creating an enjoyable diet of news, gossip and sport for the community it serves.
It was also nice to see that independents stick up for each other in these challenging times – the Express is printed by Newbury News Ltd in Berkshire.