I was very sad today to learn that the Northampton Chronicle & Echo is to cease publishing as a daily paper and go weekly, starting next month. I grew up with the Chron, and even though I left the town it is published in 28 years ago (heavens, that sounds like a long time when you write it down), I’ve enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with it ever since, always providing a quote or a contribution if asked, while the paper has always been very supportive of not just my commercial ventures, like books and gigs, but also the work I do with Thomas’s Fund, which of course is Northamptonshire-based.
When I was 15, my friend Paul’s Dad worked at the paper in the print room, and it was through this contact that Paul and I had some cartoons we’d drawn together published in the Chron. This was quite a thrill for a teenage boy. Indeed, we were photographed for the paper, and its rival the Mercury & Herald, when our cartoons landed us on the local news show Look East.
I guess it was my first taste of the media, and my first taste of nepotism, for which I remain inordinately grateful, and although my jobs in print have been in specialist publications, either music or film, my first job was at a newspaper, the NME, which gave me an early taste of the industry as it emerged from hot metal and adapted to new technologies. (Ironically, the NME was a weekly, with its frankly languid production schedule. Some of my colleagues, Steve Lamacq and Terry Staunton notable among them, had come from local papers, and I always considered that “proper” journalism. Putting out a daily paper!)
The story of the Chronicle & Echo, whose parent company Johnston Press is downsizing five of its local dailies (also: the Halifax Courier, Scarborough Evening News, Peterborough Evening Telegraph and the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph), is one for our times. People aren’t buying newspapers the way they once used to before the internet and 24-hour TV news, and as such, the industry is in steep decline. I’m just glad the Chron isn’t being closed altogether, as has already happened to numerous local titles since the crash. Newspapers are having to go digital to survive, but as we know, advertising revenues for websites are way down on the sort of money you can charge for print ads.
I subscribe to the Guardian, which saves me money, and also, I hope, supports the print edition. I need it to survive, as I don’t have an iPad, or an iPhone, or any kind of electronic reader, and I demand an old-fashioned papery edition, please. It’s wise to subscribe to any paper publication you “take” regularly, as this kind of security helps the publishers to plan ahead and creates a better “story” for advertisers. (I spent the first ten years of my career in print, and it rubs off.)
Here is a photo of myself and my friend Paul with Sarfraz Nawaz, Northampton cricket star. It was taken for the Chronicle & Echo by the Chronicle & Echo at the offices of the Chronicle & Echo, where a reception for the team was laid on in 1980 after they’d won the Benson & Hedges Cup, and Paul and I were invited to attend as we’d drawn caricatures of the whole lot of them. It’s an event I look back on fondly. The closest I came to a Jim’ll Fix It, although I hated the turquoise suit Mum made me wear.
Of course, I now follow the Chron on Twitter. Follow them on @ChronandEcho, if, like me, you find local news about Northampton vitally important. The rub, of course, is that the paper makes no money from being followed on Twitter. Their website is here, and at time of writing, the lead story is about the potential collapse of Northampton-based Aquascutum, another local icon. The bad news is everywhere. (Stop press: since typing that, the Chron has broken the story that Aquascutum has indeed gone into administration. I found this out via Twitter.)
Apparently, redundancies will be in “single figures” across the reduced newspapers, but it’s a sad day nonetheless. The end of an era. The Chronicle & Echo, like many local papers, was a daily feature of my life in Northampton. My Dad had this letter printed in it, in 1980. We thought it was the coolest thing in the world at the time. I don’t imagine the young people of today would give much of a toss. They publish things all the time on Facebook and other sites – who needs a newspaper to do it?
I live in London and my local paper, the loathsome London Evening Standard (currently a Boris Johnson party political broadcast in paper form, wrapped in constant propaganda about the London Olympics), is given away for free. It is, literally, worthless. I miss pressing my 50p into the grubby hand of a vendor on my commute home, and I don’t even like the paper. I feel that somebody should play the Last Post on a bugle.