Everyone hates their local paper. I grew up with the North-western Evening Mail, which serviced my anonymous corner of northern England around the Furness peninsula and the southern Lake District.
Everyone I knew moaned about the Mail, but bought it religiously. It was the conduit for all news and tidings in the area: births, deaths and marriages (aka “hatch, match and despatch”); situations vacant; legal matters (divorce announcements, wills, assaults and theft); and, of course, the sport.
In the Britain of my youth, a person’s politics and social status were clearly defined by the national daily they bought: the Mirror for the working-class Left; the Sun for the working-class Right; the Guardian for the middle-class liberal; the Telegraph for the aspirational Tory. But the local paper was more egalitarian: everyone bought it, regardless of the colour of your collar.
Local papers say lots about a place. You can quickly get a sense of an area’s politics, affluence, and sense of self by reading the editorial, and scanning the ads. For many years my local paper was the Centralian Advocate, the newspaper for Alice Springs and Central Australia.
I heard the Advocate referred to as “the two-minute silence”; in the circles I moved amongst it was seen as a mouthpiece for the Country Liberal Party, the party that had ruled since self-governance in 1978. That might have been a little unfair but it did fit the mould in which the local paper can please no-one most of the time.
Local papers are, sadly, an endangered species. I always buy the local paper when I arrive in town and I have a collection of them: the Bellingen Shire Courier-Sun, the Northern Daily Leader, the Curryong Courier, the Tumbarumba Times, the Mallacoota Mouth, the Coober Pedy News, the Narrabri Courier, the Walgett Spectator.
A personal favourite is the Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate – Australia’s last hot-metal typeset newspaper. How beautiful is it?
Sadly, I missed the Ridge News; its last edition hit the streets three years ago to the day, on 17 December 2015.
Ridge news is now transmitted, as it is in so many places, via social media. The North West News keeps folk abreast of what’s going on but it’s up against all kinds of crazy “news” sources; for some people, Lightning Ridge Buy, Swap and Sell holds as much authority as the News.
I was in Seaton’s Newsagency on the weekend and I was oddly comforted to see, amongst the stacked-high copies of The Land, Queensland Country Life and the Dubbo Liberal a sheaf of non-English newspapers.
Well, maybe not completely comforted by the Serbian Vesti, with its cover picture of grim-faced young men with machine guns. But I do miss having a local paper; it’s impossible to judge how a town feels or thinks about itself from its Facebook page. Vale, Ridge News.