Just look at the upper-and-lower case headlines in this weekly paper, sent to me by an old editor friend who’d been travelling through rural Wiltshire.
Not many British titles still insist on this archaic style, but the oddity seemed just right after reading the Warminster Journal – which felt like a time-capsule from front to back page.
‘Letters Help Pupils Make History’ was the page one lead on Friday 18 February, a warm and detailed story about a book created by local schoolchildren, containing memories collected from prominent modern-day figures.
David Cameron’s recollections of the 1992 General Election, Nick Clegg on the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Baroness Floella Benjamin on the racism her family faced when arriving in Britain from Trinidad in the 1960s all made for an interesting read.
This was not your typical hard-hitting splash, of course, but with Kingsdown School being the main senior state school in Warminster, a town of just 19,000 people, you could imagine pupils’ efforts as the centre of conversation.
Perhaps it’s the real ale man in me, but I also liked the other page one reports that included ‘Pubs Remain Open For Business’, explaining that two local hostelries were still serving despite going into administration – good information for thirsty readers.
And while ‘Village Pub To Be Sold’ was quite a basic headline, the story recalled how The Royal Oak first made the news last year when landlord Malcolm Levesconte disappeared with £30,000 of local Christmas savings – before he was found dead in the sea off Dover.
It was this type of local intrigue that kept me reading, my other favourites including:
- ‘Shopper Sees Red Over Parking Fine’ and ‘Death Of Local Haulier’, both on page four;
- ‘Burglary While In The Bath’ (can you imagine that?) on page six;
- ‘Enjoy A Paranormal Evening’ on page 7; and
- ‘Determined United Undone By Hawkins’s Hat-Trick’ in a local football report on page 16.
The Journal also poured efforts into good, old-fashioned reports: ‘Fifty Golden Years’ on page six and ‘Sixty Wonderful Years Together’ on page 20 both contained plenty of history, emotive memories and black and white pictures of wedding days.
There were columns crammed with ‘Planning Applications’ and ‘Planning Decisions’ on page four, various crime and court reports on page 11, and stories from 25, 50, 75, 100 and 125 years ago in the ‘Days Of Yore’ feature on page 14.
This throwback from February 1888 made me pause for thought: “Heavy snowstorm was experienced in all its severity in Warminster, an average depth of 15 inches. On Wednesday, the Board issued their usual notice calling upon residents to remove the snow in front of their premises, and reminding defaulters that they would be subjected to a penalty of £5.”
But what really made me think was the ‘Births, Marriages and Deaths’ section proudly displayed on page three, a position most modern-day editors would never consider. Do you know what? It worked.
Other classifieds were on page two – ‘Public Notices’, ‘Situations Vacant’ and ‘Pets’, to name just a few – and again, because of their detailed nature, I was left feeling that this was the right place for reader interest, as well as for advertisers.
Take this one as a good example: “Dot and Tony would like to thank all their family and friends for a wonderful evening at West Wilts Golf Club to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary. Also a big thank you to Peter and Sandra for all their help and a wonderful buffet they did. It truly was a very special evening and one we will remember.”
My old employers, Trinity Mirror, once had a content strategy called ‘People like us’, encouraging journalists to imagine the type of stories wanted by readers; the Warminster Journal was full of them, on every page, in news reports, features, sport and adverts.
The Journal was launched in 1881 as the ‘Warminster and Westbury Journal and Wilts County Advertiser’, a formal title it still uses in its imprint, and it has appeared every week since – with the exception of one year at the end of the First World War.
It’s run as a family business from the Coates & Parker stationery and printing shop in Warminster, where ‘co-directors and editors R. C. Shorto and Mrs. D. J. Watkins, nee Shorto’ produce a 20-page paper containing 80-plus reports every week.
The cover price is 38p and, although there are no official figures available, the Journal was still reported to be selling more than 5,600 a week as recently as 1986.
My pal who spotted the paper added: “I reckon it’s one of the last genuine ‘independent’ newspapers in the UK… It’s been around since the 1880s, so I guess they’ve got something right – although I can’t see what it is.”
Maybe – just maybe – the Shorto clan has got one or two ideas around hyperlocal content and classified positioning that might inspire other independents; but let’s hope – however quaint – that their upper-and-lower case headlines don’t catch on.