The editor of one of the five Johnston Press titles set to go weekly next week has been accused of censoring letters by a former journalist criticising the move.
The Halifax Courier will cease daily publication at the end of this week prior to its relaunch as a weekly on 1 June.
Editor Tim Robinson invited readers to give their views on the proposal in a full-page feature published on 20 April, saying: “I want to hear what you think of our plans – good or bad.”
But no letters critical of the proposed move have so far been published, and a former journalist on one of the Courier’s sister title has now accused the paper of censorship.
Issy Shannon, who worked for the Hebden Bridge Times until her retirement ten years ago, initially wrote to the Courier on 17 April, the day after the announcement.
She wrote again on 20 April after Tim’s article explaining the move appeared in the paper, complaining that her original letter had yet to appear.
Issy told HTFP: “I wrote two letters to Tim Robinson and all I got was a letter saying ‘your views have been noted.’
“It’s disgusting, it’s a gagging order that’s gone out basically. You tell them your views, and they don’t go in the paper.”
“I have been told they have been inundated with emails and letters. People are horrified.
“I have no doubt that the next move will be to amalgamate the Hebden Bridge Times, Todmorden News and Brighouse Echo into this new weekly Courier, because there is no way the Calder Valley can support four weekly newspapers.”
Tim told HoldtheFrontPage he was attempting to respond to letters individually rather than publishing them in the paper, but denied suggestions of a group-wide ban on letters critical of the move.
He said he had received “about 22″ letters critical of the proposed change and that some of these had not been for publication in the first place.
Said Tim: “We have received some letters and comments from readers, some of which were in direct response to the article I wrote inviting people to discuss the issue with me.
“I have tried to speak with as many readers as possible to talk about the future of the paper and allay their concerns and clear up any misconceptions they may have about our reasons for doing this.”
He added: “We’re working very hard to make a very important change for the paper and to give readers a significantly better product.”
Tim’s piece setting out the reasons behind the change and asking readers for their views can be read here. Issy’s two letters are published here for the first time below.
17 April 2012
I was stunned to read in today’s Halifax Courier (April 17) that the paper is to cease daily publication to be replaced by a weekly edition in what managing director Helen Oldham informs “our local audiences” (we are no longer readers, apparently) is a move to “platform-neutral publishing” – whatever that is.
This shock announcement, couched in baffling bureaucrat-speak, marks the end of a proud tradition in the Calder Valley. Since 1892 the Halifax Courier has served the community well in its role as a daily newspaper – the emphasis being on the word DAILY. The gobbledegook spouted by Ms Oldham in which she claims that the “relaunch initiative” to a bumper print edition of the newly-designed newspaper once per week on Fridays is somehow an improvement is an insult to readers.
How can a weekly newspaper be better than a daily? The new Halifax Courier will give readers “all the key sections they currently enjoy, as well as some exciting new developments,” she declares. I think a key issue for many readers is that the Halifax Courier is published Monday to Saturday.
Most of Ms Oldham’s focus seems to be on websites and online publishing. What of readers who don’t have access to this kind of technology – or even if they do, still like to read a newspaper? (Printed, you know – what they used to wrap round the fish and chips). Perhaps the writing is on the wall for other local newspapers in the Johnston Press stable too. The Hebden Bridge Times office has been closed for well over a year, at the very least an inconvenience to anyone wanting to place an advert or talk to a reporter, but that doesn’t appear to be an issue for management. I understand that the offices in Todmorden and Brighouse are to close too, staff (the few that are left following what will undoubtedly be a cull) relocating to Halifax.
The blurb for the relaunched tabloid editions of the Hebden Bridge Times and Todmorden News – one of the joys being that you can now read them in the bath, I gather – failed to mention that the two newspapers are now virtually indistinguishable. Perhaps they will follow the new tend and go monthly – or even yearly!
In a completely baffling and highly ungrammatical statement Ms Oldham contends: “Our focus has always been on local and we will increasingly benefit from that core experience with the rapid growth in both social media and in demand for access from mobile devices.” I don’t understand a word of that but then, I’m only a reader – sorry, audience.
Issy Shannon – former journalist on the Hebden Bridge Times
20 April 2012
Editor Tim Robinson’s glowing account (20 April) of the launch of the new weekly Halifax Courier at the beginning of June fails to address several important points. In the rush to “neutral platform publishing” – whatever that is – he hardly addresses the needs of readers who do not have access to iPads, email, websites etc. All the focus seems to be on “cutting edge digital developments” at the expense of a daily newspaper, this year ironically celebrating its 120th anniversary. “Drop me a line, I want to hear what you think of our plans – good or bad. Message me via Twitter,” he implores. “I value your opinion and promise to listen.”
But not always, apparently. I wrote in response to managing director Helen Oldham’s frankly incomprehensible announcement in the paper on 17 April, deploring the news and highly critical of Ms Oldham’s garbled account: it has yet to appear in “Yoursay”, despite Mr Robinson’s blandishments. He completely fails to take into account the wishes of a substantial section of the Courier’s readership who, even if they do have access to on-line publishing, still prefer to have the choice of a daily printed newspaper. If an important news story breaks in the middle of the week presumably we will just have to wait until Friday to read about it.
The fact that there are already three weekly newspapers in the Calderdale area completely escapes Mr Robinson; he fails to mention that staff from the Hebden Bridge Times, Todmorden News and Brighouse Echo are to relocate to Halifax, in effect closing local papers that have served their communities for well over 100 years. There’s no mention, either, that 10 journalists are to lose their jobs, with more to follow no doubt. “We’ll be encouraging people to send in reports and pictures and tell us what’s going on all over Calderdale,” he declares. Who needs reporters when readers can do the jobs for them?
A little bit of honesty wouldn’t have come amiss in Mr Robinson’s gushing article, more or less a publicity plug for Johnston Press which is axing daily newspapers all over the country. Sales of the Halifax Courier have plummeted over the past decade and the company is in dire financial straits. So, Mr Robinson, as editor please don’t try and bamboozle readers into thinking the much vaunted relaunch with “cutting edge digital developments” is any more than a desperate measure in desperate times. “The weekly paper will be the same great Courier you know now,” he blithely states, “but much, much bigger – we are looking to publish bumper editions, on average made up of 140 pages.”
Pull the other one!
Issy Shannon – former journalist on the Hebden Bridge Times