Tomorrow’s chip paper

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.

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12 thoughts on “Tomorrow’s chip paper

  1. At the risk of seeming like a hopelessly inhibited prude (which I’m not, but you’ll just have to take my word for it because I can’t be bothered to prove it), is there a reason for the casual profanity in the above? I have plenty of time for swearing, when used appropriately, powerfully, wittily, judiciously… but I hate it just slung in for no apparent reason. Or was there in fact a reason that I’ve failed to discern? It slightly spoiled – only slightly, but enough that I’ve written this – an otherwise agreeably wistful piece. It seems odd that your Manners Manifesto advises against swearing at transgressing motorists, or call centre employees (when a carefully chosen profanity, after a long period of calmness, can be very effective) or in the presence of children, and yet you’re happy to just drop a ‘fuck’ in to no obvious artistic benefit.

    • I respect your comment (I would use your name here, out of politeness, but you have declined to give it), and I have changed the offending word to “toss”. That said, I do sometimes write my blog entries in a hurry, partly because I am very busy, but mainly because I like to get the words down and published. This is the joy of blogging for me. I spent about three hours this morning, pruning and editing and tweaking some magazine copy before delivering it, but that is because I am being paid to write it, and it must be presented professionally.

      I think I wrote the f-word because I was angry when I typed the sentence it was in. This blog is not for small children. It is an adult blog to be read by adults. I find it a little mean-spirited of you to criticise me for one single swear word, and I’m sorry it “spoiled” the blog entry for you, but it’s a little hypocritical to applaud the judicious use of a swear word (“I have plenty of time for swearing”) and complain about mine simply because you, subjectively, don’t find my use of it “artistic” enough. Art is subjective, too.

      • I honestly don’t know how you survive in your line of work when you’re this sensitive! Why would give a toss (or your own choice of profanity) what I think, who am I to pass judgement? 🙂 But since we have a dialogue of sorts here, I’ll defend my corner.

        The reason I raised it was just that it seemed out of place given the tone of the rest of the piece, that’s all. The main piece, full as it was of reminiscence and sadness at the paper’s demise, didn’t read as angry, it read as wistful, and in that context the sudden swearing was a real jolt. If it was your aim to create that jolt, fine. I did say there might be a reason for it that I’d failed to discern, and that would be it.

        It would be hypocritical of me to complain about the swearing had the piece been ranting and raving and full of righteous wrath, in which case it would have seemed entirely in keeping, but it wasn’t (in my reading of it at least – maybe that’s down to my shortcomings as an interpreter). It’s not a stylistic choice I myself would have made at that point, and I think it reads better now, but I say again (in all sincerity, I can’t stress this enough) who the hell am I to sit in judgement? I’m not the professional writer here. I’m not the one whose blog actually gets read by people! If I were you, I wouldn’t be worrying what I think.

        I wouldn’t have said anything at all (even I don’t go around picking out individual words in blog entries which seem inappropriate) had it not been for your previous blog against needless swearing, with which I concur. The fact that this is not a blog for children does not make that principle any less relevant.

        And, come on, you really can’t reduce everything to “art is subjective”. Yes it is, but saying as much renders all comment on life, the universe and TV programmes utterly pointless. It’s tantamount to saying “that’s just what you think” – well, yes, it is, isn’t that the point of a Comments facility?

        • Yes, I think enough words have been typed on this subject. Thanks for supplying your name in an email, privately. If your original post had not been anonymous, I might not have reacted so snippily. On your first comment, I don’t really care what you or anything thinks about my sensitivity. It comes as part of the package. The same sensitivity to what I perceived to be anonymous criticism is what makes me care about more important matters. I have survived in my “line of work” by being nice to people and hoping they will be nice back.

  2. Nice post and great letter from Mr Collins Sr – you seem to be a chip off the old block. Oh for a colour photo though to catch the turquoise suit in its full glory! I wonder if people in 2044 will look back at their 2012 outfits/hairdos and cringe a little. My kids look quite cool in their hoodies, check shirts etc The seventies really were something else fashionwise.

    As for local papers, I guess the trend to digital is irreversible now, and i suspect that paywalls may become both more widespread and more easily negotiated. I wouldnt have a problem with tapping a button to press some pennies into a digital vendor’s grubby palm to get my daily fix of news, whether national or local. People surely won’t stop being interested in local news. It seems like human nature to me.

    Andrew, the two photos & captions above seem to give the impression that your pal Paul was, how can I put this, Eric to your Ernie, Daniels to your McGee? Was he the creative force in your partnership while you did some colouring in, or was it a bit more Lennon- McCartney? I say this as someone whose own Lancashire Evening Post photo at age 12 came about as the result of winning a BBC computer for our school. My contribution to the group effort of writing a program to play music on computer? I had neat handwriting.

    • Paul Garner, to give him his full title, was definitely the talent. His drawings were light years better than mine, but we were great friends, and shared a common love of Hollywood films and comedy, and simply enjoyed drawing together, so we came as a set. (We worshipped Mad magazine artist Mort Drucker, and he influenced our style. Paul was much better at appropriating it though!)

      Paul’s first job out of college was as a storyboard artist – he was brilliant at that, too. He made a career of art, while I drifted sideways into writing. It was meant to be. Although Paul was, and is, massively creative. He co-founded the performance-theatre-art group Gawk-A-Go-Go. You can see their work, and Paul’s incredible art, at their website.

      • Thanks for the link. Paul is indeed very good. And I was delighted to see Eric & Ernie and Paul Daniels on his portraits page. No McGee though. Poor Debbie.

  3. Never mind being a Northampton icon, Aquascutum is mentioned in Cud’s Bibi Couldn’t See… These names pass into history, and so do we. I guess the local press would be drying up regardless of the economy (which is admittedly brutal at the moment and from what I can see is doing nothing but getting worse). It’s sad to see these papers in decline but it feels inevitable. And it’s a direct result of our choices. My worry is what’s going to happen to journalism as a profession in the future. And I never thought I’d find myself worrying about that.

  4. As someone who worked at the Chron (and the M & H) for six years from 1979 (chiefly music & sport), I remember the purring sound that would emanate from the adjoining subs’ desk as the latest Paul Garner cartoon. Impressed all. Was his dad Ken? I didn’t realise Paul was the Morecambe to your Wise. I may not have read the Chron for many years but share your sense of loss at the disappearance of the daily publication. The writing was on the wall, if not the printed page, for many years, starting with the demise of the Saturday night Pink ‘Un a decade or so ago. Ceefax did for that. And the internet did for the daily.
    One other thing Andrew, I admire almost all your work but I curse you for your first book, the young indie fan in a Northampton 1980s nostalgia kick – that was me. I can never write a book because of you!! – Dominic Chapman

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