Whatever happened to the news in Harlow?
News / Sun 5th Nov 2017 at 02:36pm
By Michael Casey
BEFORE I start, can I just declare that I have no axe to grind regarding other newspapers. I try to avoid criticising others as I’m a right old prima donna and a good old St Marks education teaches you something about planks and splinters (Matthew 7:3).
But nearly every day, people ask me about the state of news in Harlow. I know what they mean. So I thought I would pause to reflect and if anyone else asks me, we will politely refer to this article.
I think people miss the day when a printed paper, full of community stories, came through their letter box. Whether it was the Citizen, Herald or Star. They miss those days.
And these were papers that had between fifty and one hundred local news stories within.
I have been running two on-line newspapers for close to ten years. I launched www.yourthurrock.com on September 1st, 2008 and www.yourharlow.com on July 1st, 2013.
I hate to shine light on magic but it is basically one man in a converted office in his house in Harlow, doing what he can to keep the good people of Thurrock and Harlow informed.
A quiet day for YourThurrock is around 3,000 page views. A busy day is 400 a minute.
YourHarlow is growing. We average around 2,000 page views a day and now publish over 60 stories a week, We have stepped up the pace over the last six months as a recognition that there is a vacuum in the town.
I run my own race and cover as much as I can but are conscious that there is a lot I miss out on.
As I mentioned the other papers, here is a potted history of papers in Harlow.
The Harlow Citizen was launched in 1953. It amalgamated with the Harlow Gazette (founded in 1950) in 1973 and was renamed the Harlow Gazette and Citizen. It reverted to the Harlow Gazette title in 1980, briefly became the Harlow Citizen Gazette in 1989 and finally readopted the Harlow Citizen title the following year.
At the time of its demise in 2008 it was published by Newsquest (North & East London) from editorial offices in Epping.
The Harlow Herald was a weekly free sheet tabloid newspaper for the New Town of Harlow and surrounding parts of western Essex, including the nearby town of Sawbridgeworth.
It started in 1970 as the Harlow edition of the Classified, and was renamed the Harlow & Epping Classified in 1976. In 1986 it was renamed the Harlow and District News & Classified, but only for four issues, after which it became the Harlow and District Classified & News. A relaunch in 1989 saw it renamed the Harlow & Epping Herald & Post; Epping was dropped from the title in early 1990 but restored in October 1991. It was renamed simply the Herald in 1993 and split into various editions from then until its demise.
It was replaced in September 2010 by the Harlow Scene, a “news-zine”. The url now redirects to the Scene‘s website.
The Harlow Star was launched in 1980 by Stephen Austin Newspapers Ltd. In 1983 it was renamed the Harlow and Epping Star and appeared for the next five years in two editions: “H” and “E”. Then in 1988 the Epping Star started publication as a separate title, leaving the Harlow Star to resume its separate existence.
Although it’s a free sheet, a very small number of copies (just over one per cent) are sold through the news trade.
And so to modern times
In 2015, the Harlow Star’s news group was bought by Trinity Mirror. Before the sale, the Harlow office moved to Hertford.
But as well as the office moving, the last Harlow journalists going, the style has changed. The printed paper now publishes a great deal of crime stories. Arguably, 40% to 50%.
Again, I am not speaking for them but I believe that they are simply putting in print what is popular on line. As I write, they (as we have) are publishing the press release from Essex Police regarding a man being charged over an alleged sex attack in Little Brays, Harlow. They will publish that on a number of platforms and by a number of reporters. Even the business team tweet it out.
It will be read and read and read. They may well look at the iron law of page views, shares and likes and say that their printed paper simply reflects what Harlow pool view on the web.
The Facebook page is now dominated by generic stories. A KFC in Liverpool comes to mind. And these stories are read and shared.
You will no longer see reporters at council meetings, community awards, theatre shows, local business exhibitions etc. Like we say that is their call and they may well point to the paper packed full of adverts being distributed to 20 to 30,000 homes as a sign of their success and an endorsement of the way they operate.
Is it a sustainable long term model? Possibly not. There are industry experts who believe they are trying to extract every last penny for the benefit of their shareholders.
And remember the word shareholder. It may be important to remember that these are private businesses. There are people in Harlow who think that the local newspaper is part of their council tax. I don’t know where they get that idea from but they do.
There are local printed newspapers surviving and thriving. I recently attended a conference and was in the company of The Bristol Cable, Waltham Forest Echo, The Peckham Peculiar to name just a few. I write for the Edinburgh Reporter when I visit for the Edinburgh Festival. The Thurrock Independent launched a few months ago.
And at the corner of one’s eye, The Stortford Independent launched a month ago, taking over the old offices of the Herts and Essex Observer. I understand it is selling like hot cakes.
Can I see a return to the days when a free printed paper with 100 plus stories is delivered to 30,000 plus homes in Harlow? No.
I can see a paid for paper that you can buy from hubs, that is imaginatively marketed etc. However, I am not here to sell or promote a business model.
I am just a 55-year-old reporter ekeing out a living, pledging between 60 to 70 stories about Harlow. I am happy with my niche and I do what I can.
And I will continue to attend council meetings, court, crime scenes, community events, theatre performances, award nights, interviews with politicians, sports events etc. No job beneath, no job above.
You keep sending the news items to [email protected].
But I do feel for those, older than me, who liked a paper being delivered or going up to the hatch to buy one. It was just another re-affirmation that they were still here and engaging wth their community.
Right. Enough of this navel-gazing. Off to the next story….
How right you are Michael, it is such a shame that we have a local newspaper that reports such little news. In one recent edition there was only 11 news items and 3 sports news items. Some 50% of the news items are crime reports, on the 'whats on page' most of the events are not in Harlow and without local news there is nothing for residents to comment on so the letters page is often missing. What I really don't understand is why they don't even print articles when someone sends them the full text for a news item. Lowestoft (a town similar in size to Harlow) has a local news paper which has to be purchased. It is packed with news from cover to cover. I feel sure that such a newspaper would be a success in Harlow.
I would really love to find out where I could micro film of the classified group of free weekly papers ie MMS Publications