Andy Hemsley is news editor, Rye & Battle Observer
My district is the ancient Cinque Port town of Rye and today sees one of the biggest events in the town’s calendar – Bonfire Night. Bonfire celebrations go on throughout November in Sussex and are seriously big – more than 400 people are expected to take part in a flaming torchlit procession with up to 20,000 revellers lining the street.
The police are jittery and set to hand out spot fines to any bonfire society members letting off bangs in the street.
We are looking to do a front page and a large picture spread.
The evening descends into chaos.
Shortly into the event, a tractor pulling a float at the front of the procession runs out of diesel, blocking a narrow medieval arch and leaving hundreds of torch-bearing participants stuck behind it.
Police and organisers decide to divert the procession straight to the bonfire site, leaving thousands of people lining the streets, waiting to see a spectacle that isn’t going to arrive.
The crowd is disappointed, tempers are frayed and one bonfire society member accuses the police of hijacking the event.
The first part of the day is spent picking up on last night’s events, gathering more comments and preparing some background.
I pop into the office to clear e-mails which have built up over the weekend and get some early stories underway, then it’s off to find a pub with a good roaring fire and settle down with a couple of pints of Harvey’s fine Sussex ale.
We go to press on Thursday morning and the paper hits the streets on Friday.
This is where the week really starts to take shape. The newslist is updated in readiness for a 3pmnews meeting with the editor. The ban on hunting is looking set to be the big issue, with strong reaction from what is a predominantly rural area and an MP who has been consistently in favour of a ban.
The paper is two titles in one, covering Rye and Battle (there was once a big scrap in that town-nasty business!) It is editionalised with separate fronts and pages three and five slipped.
It is decided to lead Battle with a hunting story but there is no natural lead for the Rye edition. Things are shaping up though: an elderly woman has been re-located away from her village following a fire at her housing association-owned home and has been waiting for nearly eight months for the association to repair the damage so she can return.
She won’t be home by Christmas so I decide to go for the “elderly woman facing a lonely and miserable Christmas” angle. She is down to earth and comes out with some great quotes about how her prize-winning garden has now become a tangled wilderness.
The housing association responds with a stock comment about how it always tries to do its best for tenants.
I learn from a police e-mail that an elderly couple from the quiet village of Ickleshamhave been terrorised in their own home by burglars.
The police are refusing to name them.
Success! After a bit of digging, I locate the elderly victims, and fortunately, we had already written a positive story about them. They agree to an interview and picture.
A missing dog evolves from a nib to a half-decent story when I learn that it was stolen from an elderly lady who lost her husband last year. A bit more scratching around elicits from a missing dog charity tales of dogs being stolen by drug addicts and sold in local pubs. One mutt changed hands three times over pub counters. The bereft owner mails in a nice picture of her Jack Russell pup looking appropriately doe-eyed.
The rest of the day is spent on follow ups and ongoing local issues: a new library which is running almost a year behind schedule and Christmas lights under threat because the cost of putting them up has doubled since last year. By the end of the day the Rye lead falls straight into my lap. The district council has decided to close every public toilet in town in a cost-cutting exercise.
Councillors and Rye’s tourism fraternity go ballistic. The phrase “death knell” is mentioned several times and the comments come thick and fast.
Deadline day (effectively), and a bad start when my Battle colleague Ellie phones in sick, leaving me with her front and page three to write as well as my own.
“We are in the mire,” is the sanitised version of what I say to the editor. He quips: “Yeah, but you’ll get us out of it.”
He is right, we have been in worse situations before and there is plenty of news about. Start to get to grips with the big hunting story. A gruff kennel man informs me that putting a slug through his barnet is the only way they will stop him from hunting, while a farming couple vow to quit the country when the ban comes into force.
Views are provided by the MP and his opposition and more comments follow from angry farmers who promise they will make access to their land difficult for amenity workers.
The day becomes one big push to get things done, awkward picture captions, distracting phone calls, chasing up people who have promised to get back with quotes, but we get there in the end.
The editor comes over half an hour before the 10.30am final deadline and wants a completely new angle on the Battle hunting front. This is turned around in 20 minutes. After deadline, diary pictures are arranged for the weekend. Then it’s out onto the patch to catch up with contacts. I see Jimper Sutton, a local fisherman who is as Sussex as they come. He spins a good yarn and often has some good leads.
I write a few stories to get ahead for next week. The lead looks in the bag with the council saying it will axe a grant to run the town’s tourist information centre which could force it to close.
Death knells are in the air again.
Elderly people and children are at risk from speeding cars in the village of Iden and I learn of a petition to get the speed limit reduced.