I woke up to the news today that the office of my local paper – where I was lucky enough to bag my first job as a rookie reporter – is at risk of closing.
Four jobs could also be cut from the Wilts & Glos Standard; a devastating amount for a place where there are barely more than 15 staff.
I remember turning up at the Standard on my first day in 2013. I had emailed to ask for some work experience, age 21-years-old, and fresh out of university; keen to get my foot in the door.
It was Easter Monday. The editor at the time, Skip Walker, had told me I could wait and come in on Tuesday if I wanted to spend the bank holiday with family. But I was insistent on coming in. I wanted to show her I was serious.
I spent my Easter Monday alone in the office with Skip – someone I came to learn was fierce but fair, incredibly friendly and a world-class journalist. As my editor she was funny, extremely well-spoken, and liked her coffee a *precise* shade of brown.
So my first day I made us coffee (a nerve-wracking task in itself) and helped Skip with tasks and errands. I called a young chef to interview her about a story – I remember feeling intense dread as I picked up the phone to dial the number. Skip was right there, she would hear if I made a mistake or sounded silly. There was no usual office chatter to hide behind… I just had to go for it. I remember I even wrote a little script on a Word document before I made the call, even including the line “Hello, my name is Megan and I’m calling from the Wilts and Glos Standard newspaper”, just in case I forgot the absolute basics…
(My heart returned to its usual pace when I hung up and was told I had a good telephone manner).
My work experience led to an interview, which led to a full time job as a trainee reporter. I was ecstatic. How had this happened? I felt like the luckiest graduate on Earth.
For the next two years I worked with a small but brilliant team of people. Skip, and my first news editor Simon, taught me invaluable skills I still carry with me today.
Of course I made mistakes – from the serious (taking a photo of a young boy at an event and uploading it straight to the website without his mother’s permission during my first week), to the not-so-serious-but-still-highly-embarrassing (pronouncing Coroner’s Court like “Corona” the popular tequila lager – I remember Simon just looking at me in disbelief).
But I also learnt.
The Standard paid for me to study my NCTJ diploma, as my university course hadn’t been NCTJ-accredited. Every Thursday evening I would make the half an hour trip to Stroud for shorthand lessons. My brain would feel like it was fizzing after each two hour session, and I couldn’t watch TV or listen to the radio without seeing Teeline symbols flash through my mind. I received a huge box of books in the post on Media Law, Essential Journalism, and the Editors’ Code of Practice, which I took home and pored over obsessively once my shift had finished each day.
I could write pages and pages on how much I loved working at the Standard. My hilarious and friendly former colleagues, the enthusiasm of our team, the passion we all held for our local paper.
That old, crooked building which stuck out on Dyer Street like something from Diagon Alley – the one Newsquest now want to move the paper out of.
I think the office is in the perfect place, right in the centre of Cirencester – the Standard’s main patch. I remember readers would pop in with stories and lean up against the counter at reception, chatting away merrily while I scribbled notes. We were a stone’s throw away from council offices, friendly business people – we were part of the community. My Dad, a teacher at a primary school the next street along, even popped in during half term now and then to say hello.
If the office is closed, where will the reporters, the editors, the advertising team go?
It breaks my heart, the way local news is changing. I feel sad I wasn’t born early enough to see it at its heyday, when people would rely on their town’s paper for information.
Today, we are turning to the internet more for our news, meaning fewer papers are sold.
And not only that but I feel we are growing less trusting towards what we read. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook allow absolutely anyone to post whatever information they like – instantly – and naturally, we are wary. What can we believe?
I hope I do not live to see the day when local papers die out completely. And I hope that in 10, 20, or 30 years we won’t see local papers all churned out together under one big roof miles away from the area it’s actually reporting on.
But I feel like we might be heading that way.
I live in Birmingham now. And I’m going to buy my local paper today. You might not think it’ll make much difference, but please, I encourage you to do the same.