Friday, 26 December 2008


This is an early start to my New Year's resolution to restart this blog.

It's Boxing Day, and we've just had the annual chat about the funny stories my mum and late grandpa (who died in April last year) dug up in their family history delvings. But this year, with predictions of the end of local newspapers looking decreasingly doom-mongerish and increasingly prescient, I'm more conscious than normal about the role they've had in giving families like mine an insight into their forebears.

Some are grimly amusing - for instance the ancestress who told an inquest into her late husband's suicide by hanging that "he'd always been a bit odd". But the local rag's role in an investigation into our family's most darkest and thrilling secrets is nothing if not crucial.

I won't give names, as there are living relatives who would be aghast if I did (and who have sworn us to secrecy on even more scandalous aspects of the story spilled in a moment of indiscretion to this day . . .). But it's only through a local newspaper's thorough report of an inquest that we know quite how many people lied about how one of my male ancestors "died" about 20 years before the date on his death certificate - a delicately constructed web of lies which even included erecting a fake headstone in the local church's graveyard. And it's a tradition that reporters I have worked with were maintaining as little as 40 years ago, i.e. taking down the names of everyone who has attended a funeral as they leave the church, which has given us the scandalous detail that the "dead" husband attended his widow's funeral under an unmistakably fake name - truly the stuff of Wilkie Collins novels.

Since I last posted, the BBC's talk of extending its local coverage has come to nothing, and there's been grand talk of public subsidy of local newspapers in the future. I'm not remotely convinced this would be workable when it comes to day to day reporting of hard news - the conflict of interest between estates one to three and four is too big a stumbling block. But perhaps there is a case for a separated subsidy for this kind of reporting - the stuff of public record which nobody else is recording. If only so Christmas family myth-making sessions can draw on more of the truth - and therefore more scandal!


Sam said...

"...the conflict of interest between estates one to three and four is too big a stumbling block."

I am curious - what do you mean by this?

Jo Wadsworth said...

Hi Sam,

I mean if local newspapers were given a government subsidy, there would inevitably be an unspoken assumption that they should be less critical of the hand which is feeding them - on the part of government (estates one to three), the press (the fourth estate), but perhaps most damagingly, our readers too.

It's an interesting debate though, and one which is ongoing. In some ways, we are subsidised at the moment through the statutory notices local authorities are required to place, at some expense, in local newspapers. There are laws which state councils are not allowed to decide which publications to place these, and indeed any adverts such as job vacancies, according to political motive. How effective this is in practice is impossible to monitor though.

Looking back on this post though, I am not sure how you could separate out which reports are worthy of subsidy, and which are not - and whether you should even try and attempt it. That would probably be the easiest road to local councils trying to influence coverage - in much the same way the Mail tries to do with the BBC on behalf of taxpayers.