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Give readers our time and respect

THE EDITOR’S CHAIR: Gary Cullum says the industry’s past can teach us lessons in how to shape its future

IN the month that The People’s Friend from the DC Thomson stable of publications celebrated its 147th anniversary, wasn’t it nice to learn that the publisher found the person it believes to be the magazine’s most loyal reader – 101-year-old Jean McLeod (pictured above).

She is a shrewd and canny Scot because despite the duration of the subscription – some 93 years since the 1920s – she only lets her daughter buy her subscription six months at a time, ‘in case she doesn’t last the full year’.  

Mrs McLeod was introduced to The People’s Friend by her granny and recalls going to her grandparents’ house in Girvan, Scotland, and reading articles in the magazine that ‘stood out to her’.

Her daughter Isobel told the ‘Friend’ team: “She and her mother loved to use the knitting patterns.”

It’s a heart-warming story and one I am sure can be echoed to some extent around the UK by a number of newspapers. But these loyal readers of so many years are now few and far between (unless you know better of course, in which case do let us know). 

That said, it’s a great story and just goes to show how much loyalty you can garner if you give the readers what they want and what they need. A top class editorial read and a reason to buy the newspaper – in print, or online, every day or every week. 

The past is so important to our future; our rich history and heritage has helped shape our industry and made it what it is today.

Despite the technology and the fast-moving pace at which we live, we must never forget where we came from, nor those who pioneered and pushed the boundaries to give us much of our industry strength to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities created by today’s multiplatform media world.

I recall the first editor I worked for as a cub reporter in the 1970s. Mr J G Keen was ‘old school’ and he was a determined custodian and guardian of his newspaper’s place in the community.

His editorial team’s job was to ensure that the Hemel Hempstead Gazette reported everything that was happening locally, beating the rival Home Counties Newspapers’ free sheet and Thomson Regional Newspapers’ evening paper to the story wherever possible. And if we didn’t get the story first, J G Keen made it abundantly clear that we had to get a bigger and better story, and so ensure that the Gazette maintained its 130-plus years as the local newspaper of record.

I’m not sure how the late John Greville Keen would have responded to the advent of social media and the changing face of news publishing. But I am sure that he would have enjoyed the challenge in much the same way as he enjoyed routing rival newspapers, and his focus on his readers would have remained uppermost.

 John Keen demanded local stories about local people – and lots of them. He had a nose for a story that had been filed without every fact and name spelling being checked, and woe betide the reporter that failed to do so… 

John Keen – along with the editors, publishing executives and pioneers that went before him, and who faced and chased off the launch and threat of commercial radio and commercial TV – had a clear idea of their products’ USP; good quality local journalism.

Today’s editors and publishing executives are no different from the pioneers of yesteryear; their role is to push the boundaries and give the industry strength to survive and be sustainable.But in these alluring days of ever-evolving publishing platforms coupled with pressures on revenues I make an appeal on behalf of John G Keen; don’t forget that important USP.

If we give our readers our time, our interest, our respect and our professional best, they will give us their loyalty.

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