Farewell to Frank, but who'll replace him?

Armed with a meagre £9,000, award-winning reporter Frank Branston
decided to join the free revolution. Unhappy with the new editor at his
weekly newspaper, he decided to go it alone.

It was 1977 and free
regional newspapers were proving they could upset the established order
and take on bigger, paid-for rivals – much to their consternation.
Bedfordshire on Sunday was born.

Nearly 30 years and a multitude
of fine scoops later, Branston is one of the last of the “wing and a
prayer launch” generation to make his exit, selling out to Yattendon
for what we can safely assume to be a good 1,000 times the original
investment.

So is the crusading journalist-turned-entrepreneur a
dying breed? Of Branston’s generation, only a handful remain – Eric
Gordon at the Camden New Journal being the obvious keeper of the flame.

There’ll be more from him in next week’s magazine.

Accepted
wisdom says that in a media world dominated by multinational
conglomerates, it’s virtually impossible for the small player to make
their mark.

But then accepted wisdom probably wouldn’t have
backed Branston and his partners – a grocer and a private eye – to last
even until 1978.

Perhaps the new breed of Branstons will be
turning to the internet to make their mark. With more households using
broadband to connect to the net than modem dial up accounts, it seems
online journalism could be ready for its next great leap forward.

And
since none of the big players has cracked it yet, there’s no reason the
winners can’t be smallerscale entrepreneurs with a belief that
journalism can pay and a new way of using it to engage the public.

The Mayor of Bedford, one Frank Branston, will no doubt be among those cheering them on.

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