The lockdown threatens much that was familiar, much that people held dear. The closure of businesses has a domino effect. Closed doors means no potential to sell and no income from selling. No potential to sell and no income from selling mean no need for advertising and no budget with which to pay for it. No need for advertising and no budget with which to pay for it mean severe reductions in the income of local newspapers. Local newspapers have already suffered a substantial reduction in their circulation because many people who bought copies have been told to stay at home. In the midst of the printed newspaper industry’s struggle for survival against the free online news platforms, the lockdown has come as a body blow.
When a local newspaper closes, the local people lose something of themselves. The Western Gazette was the newspaper that described the world of my childhood and youth. As with many newspapers, its title is more expansive than the community it represents. Given its coverage 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. Our home village is closer to London than to Saint Ives, and we are at the western side of the area in which the paper circulates.
When I was young, the Western Gazette had the news that really mattered. 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.
A strong local identity is what gives a newspaper like the Western Gazette its unique character. The Western Gazette’s coverage and circulation are specific. To the north, there is the Central Somerset Gazette and to the west there is the Somerset County Gazette. . Unlike a local radio station, whose boundaries of listenership are vague, and definitely unlike a website, which is without any geographical bounds of readership, local newspapers help define communities, help those communities express themselves. Local newspapers tell stories of local people and without local stories communities quickly lose identity.