South Shields Gazette columnist Janis Blower is today celebrating 40 years at the paper.
Blower, who was born and brought up in South Shields, joined the paper on 16 August 1971 after finishing grammar school.
Editor John Szymanski described her as a ‘passionate ambassador for South Tyneside”, adding: ‘The Shields Gazette is extremely fortunate to have someone of her calibre.”
Szymanski described her role as ‘wide and varied”, including “helping readers reunite with long-lost relatives, recalling past places and events for posterity, or looking to the future with a keen eye and a disapproving critique, if so needed”.
He added: ‘Her sharp writing skills and highly-intelligent prose, wry observations and social commentary has deservedly won her a legion of fans – and long may she continue to do what she does best in a job she clearly excels in.”
Blower, 58, writes a one-page daily column five days a week in the Gazette. She told Press Gazette that when she first joined the paper in 1971 she didn’t intend to stay for 40 years – “it sort of crept up on me,” she said. “I still can’t believe myself sometimes when I think about it.”
She joined the paper after leaving school because: ‘English was the only thing I was good at school – I can’t do numbers, but I can do words.’
When she first went to the Gazette, taken over by Johnston Press in 1999, she wrote some of her first articles in pencil – and while the technology has come on since then she believes that, in some respects, journalism was easier then than today.
‘First of all, you didn’t have the competition that you have now from citizen journalism, so many media outlets or social media,’she said. ‘And you were then the only person that stood between the reader and the local authorities.”
She admitted that being a journalist can be challenging when your readers are close neighbors, friends and even relatives. ‘I covered the miners’ strike in mid 1980s for the paper and that was a very difficult thing to do,” she said.
‘You had to walk a very narrow line between reporting on what were sometimes very volatile situations, while at the same time trying not to alienate the people who were still your readersâ€¦some of the miners were our neighbors and friends.’
But it is this interaction with that Blower said is the best part of the job.
‘Our readers are fantasticâ€¦ the relationships they have with the paper and that I hope I have with them. They see that they can literally call to office from the street and see me.”
It’s not only in the office where she finds herself accosted by readers. ‘I can go shopping with my husband and some strange man who we’ve never met before pulls me over and starts talking to me about ships,’she said.
While her family has ‘just had to learn to live with her job”, her son now plans to follow in her footsteps. ‘I’ve obviously lit a flame there, I hope,’said Janis.
She now works part-time at the paper and hopes to stay at the Gazette until her retirement, but she added: ‘I suppose that is up to my employersâ€¦but certainly I will be here for a few more years.”