Really local news

The June edition of The Roundabout came through the door, the monthly magazine of the parishes around Langport. The magazine must be forty years old, established after the local benefices were combined as a team. It has a glossy cover now – with coloured photographs – a change from the times of stencil and duplicator. Mostly the news is of church activities, with obituaries of those who had been buried with their forebears in village churchyards that have a timeless quality.

There is a monthly free newspaper The Langport Leveller, which has a circulation of ten thousand copies, but it lacks the rootedness found in a parish magazine. Well-written and professionally produced, its problem is that it could be about anywhere. It is strongly political in its lead stories and editorial, but given the sterility of English politics, it is sometimes dull reading, the death of a old neighbour is infinitely more interesting than wranglings at county hall.

The Western Gazette, a tabloid now, with a much reduced circulation from former times, was the newspaper that described the world of my childhood and youth. As with many newspapers, its title was more expansive than the community it represented. Its coverage was of the affairs of Yeovil and south Somerset, the description of the area as “western” would have seemed odd to anyone living in Devon and Cornwall; High Ham is closer to London than to Saint Ives, and we were at the western side of the area in which the  Western Gazette circulated.

The Western Gazette had the news that really mattered to someone too young to vote and whose understanding of the outside world was determined by whatever might be gleaned from BBC television news. The stories were of local events featuring names that were recognizable. The newspaper covered the stuff of village life, particularly the funerals. The obituary reports would have a brief note on the deceased and then a list of those who were present at the funeral service. A reporter with a notebook would stand at the church gate taking everyone’s names; it was important not to be missed out, and, if present by oneself, to be sure to tell the reporter the names of family members one represented.

The Western Gazette helped created a sense of community because it specified the community of which it was a part. Unlike a local radio station, whose boundaries of listenership are vague, and definitely unlike a website, which is without any geographical bounds of readership, the Western Gazette’s coverage and circulation were specific.

When people complain about a loss of sense of community, asking f they buy the local newspaper might be telling.


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