General, Journalism, MLW

OK, why don’t we concentrate our minds and give ourselves a gauntlet to pick up. Let’s try ‘Project Stamford’.

I’m not sure why, particularly. Or maybe I do.

Anyway, Stamford is starting to intrigue me. It started several weeks ago with news that the local newspaper – the Stamford Herald & Post – was one of eight, free weekly newspapers that Trinity Mirror were reluctantly forced to close… http://outwithabang.rickwaghorn.co.uk/?p=56 having failed to find a buyer for its Midlands division last year.

Within that post came a first reference to www.mylocalwriter.com/stamford – to which it would be nice to return.

If not actually mentioned by name, the Stamford Herald & Post made it all the way to the House Of Lords the other week where its demise was laid, in part, at the door of the Competition Commission by Trinity Mirror chief Sly Bailey – http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/may/20/web20.trinitymirror

And her legal side-kick agreed…

“Bailey also criticised competition law, saying it should be relaxed in regional markets.

“She added that Trinity Mirror had wanted to sell the eight free newspapers in Derby and Peterborough, that were closed three weeks ago, to Johnston Press in 2001 but had been overruled by the Competition Commission.

“Paul Vickers, group legal secretary and group legal director of Trinity Mirror, told the committee that had the Competition Commission allowed the sale to go ahead “we think they would still be there”.

There is, of course, still a paid-for weekly that serves the good people of Stamford – the Stamford & Rutland Mercury, part of the Johnston Press empire. It even has its standard-issue website – http://www.stamfordmercury.co.uk/

So, the fact of the matter is that the people of Stamford are not without a newspaper voice. For now, at least.

Delve a little deeper and Stamford is actually one of the great, provincial newspaper towns of this country. Hard on the A1 and halfway between London and York, weary travellers have been settling themselves down in front of The George’s roaring fire to read the Stamford Post since, well, 1710 to be precise – it predated the Mercury by two years.

Whether – 300 years later – its sad demise will predate the Mercury by two years is something for the JP boys and their new Malaysian pals to ponder and for the rest of us to guess.

My guess would be that the Mercury will probably stumble on beyond the next two years. What is not in doubt is that, in common with every other provincial newspaper in this country, it is on a rocky path right now.

But, for me, finding the people of Stamford a sustainable, digital news platform that services their local news needs ought to be exactly the kind of ‘target town’ that we all should aim for. That should be our bench-mark – finding a Stamford Post that befits the 21st Century.

For you are unlikely to find somewhere more quintessentially ‘middle England’ than Stamford – in geography, if nothing else.

I’m stabbing about in the dark a bit, but I suspect it will have a town council that deserves reporting, a High School with an Ofsted report that deserves scraping, a magistrates court that might be worth reporting, a Westminster MP that deserves an occasional grilling…

… and, above all, I suspect that Stamford will have a host of local advertisers that deserve a local outlet on which to display their wares. Particularly now that they don’t have the Herald & Post. To where do they now turn? The Mercury, now the only show in town…

Perhaps we should even go so far as to give it a name; give it a label; throw a gauntlet down at our own feet and see if we can’t get it to work.

So, welcome to ‘Project Stamford’. Let’s give it a go…

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