Guest comment: After 97 years in print, Brentwood Gazette is being sacrificed at the altar of digital publishing

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The Brentood Gazette is one of more than 100 titles taken over by Trinity Mirror in November 2015 after its buyout of Local World group.

Following cutbacks, reporters now focus on writing for online – with print titles filled mainly with content which has already appeared digitally.

Former Croydon Advertiser reporter Gareth Davies has lamented the effect of the changes on his title. Here, former Brentwood Gazette writer Brian Lynch has his say:

In 1919, after the ‘war to end all wars’, a man called Sydney Dunn launched a local newspaper in his town (see my book Brentwood Gazetted).  For almost a hundred years since then the Brentwood Gazette has faithfully carried out all the duties and accepted all the responsibilities of a local newspaper. In his opening editorial Dunn wrote:

“We propose in this journal to give the residents of the district, week by week, all the news and we hope even to go so far as to give a lead on many points affecting its progress.”   He must be spinning in his grave now.

It was the legacy of a community journalist pioneer aimed at bringing the people of his town together, uniting them in successful campaigns like the building of a local hospital in the thirties.  Then a small Essex market town that having emerged from one war, two decades later would find itself united with the rest of the nation in another one.  Its pages have reported everything from village fetes and flower shows to murder – from national celebrations to local scandals.

For ninety-seven years the Brentwood Gazette maintained the integrity of the local paper, in keeping with the dreams and intentions of its founder.

But now it gives all the indications of being sacrificed on the altar of digital publishing.

Dunn’s honoured commitment to the community is being replaced by disregard for it – the victim of the High Priests of Trinity Mirror.  They want the revenues it offers, but not the responsibility to their area the local press should offer in return.

Editors, whoever they are and even national ones, do not dictate policy – just carry it out. I certainly don’t blame the current Gazette editor, but as a result we have boardrooms with no connections with the town they should be serving, forcing it to carry stories that have no relevance (in our case) to Brentwood.  Contrary to the ridiculous and inaccurate image portrayed in a low-level TV show about Essex, Brentwood is a relatively wealthy and educated town deserving of more respect.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer learned his sums here while other MPs, including our own, live or were educated here.  Many elderly Brentwoodians like myself (an octogenarian) live here too and we like to sit and read our newspaper perhaps over breakfast, not from a computer screen.

What’s more we’re interested in local stories relevant to our community, not tales from other parts of Essex like a drunken Thurrock woman urinating in public or Waltham Abbey burglaries.

In sport for example – and I speak as a Hammers fan since the age of ten – we now get a weekly double-page spread about West Ham United, totally ignoring other London clubs like Spurs and QPR etc who also have fans here.

Brentwood loves its sport and Essex, which has provided England with several cricket captains including the current one, has won promotion to the first division.  So far there is not a mention of that, but we live in hope.

I should declare a personal interest, having written for the Gazette on and off for around forty years, until I retired ten or twelve years ago.

I have just finished writing a weekly topical/satirical column, because too often what I’d written didn’t come out as it had been written.  Stopping it was my idea so this is not personal sour grapes, but it is as far as my town, my friends, neighbours and until last week, readers, are concerned.

Brentwood deserves better than this.

Why, oh why, is Trinity Mirror, purporting to be a publishing company, so dead set on killing off the ‘local rag’, to replace it with technology that some of its readers cannot cope with, or do not have or even want the technology?

Why are they sacrificing ninety-seven years of community service with a suicide note?

(The edition pictured dates from 2013)

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