Closure of 151-year-old paper prompts many fond memories

Journalists have called on Stormont and local communities to rally around their local newspapers, after the Banbridge Chronicle announced it was to close after 151 years.

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 6:20 pm
Journalists have urged Stormont and communities to rally round local papers for the good of communities across Northern Ireland.

In a statement this week, the newspaper said it was “so sad” but that “the end is in sight”.

It added: “On foot of gradually declining trading conditions in print media for the past number of years, and a perfect storm of such commercial difficulties during the Covid-19 pandemic, the newspaper is unable to continue and will publish its last edition at the end of October, unless other arrangements can be made.

“Our immense gratitude to our wonderful staff, present and past, readers, advertisers, contributors and suppliers is undiminished.”

Almost 160 people posted messages on social media lamenting the apparent demise of the paper, which is owned by the Hodgett family. Many clubs, councillors and businesses thanked the paper for its support over many years. Former staff also recalled their tenures with fondness.

Farming Life editor Ruth Rodgers began working there in 1994, in her first job as a senior reporter. “It immediately became apparent how important the paper was to the local community and I never ceased to be amazed at the number of calls we received from members of the public who wanted a particular problem highlighted,” she said. “In a lot of cases these people felt they had come to the end of their tether with agencies or organisations.” However a journalist’s call to a press officer often brought a speedy resolution, she noted.

“That’s why it is such a travesty that a newspaper which has been serving the community for 151 years now finds itself in the position that it has to close its doors. I really enjoyed my time at the chronicle and had the opportunity to work with some really talented and dedicated people there. Unfortunately it will probably not be the only newspaper to close its doors due to the current climate - unless the communities rally round and start to recognise the important role their local paper plays.”

Lurgan Mail editor Paul Wilkinson got his first break into journalism there. He recalled how the “young, but experienced and significantly more self-confident colleagues” were to be a source of “never forgotten instruction and encouragement” that shaped him in ways he hadn’t thought possible.

He added: “That the Banbridge Chronicle’s masthead should sink beneath the waves after 151 years afloat, victim of what has been called a perfect storm, is worthy of lament. There may yet come a time when society will miss papers like the Chronicle.”

Other former journalists paid tribute on social media. Chris Hewitt, who left the paper to join Empire magazine, said it was “desperately sad news”. He added: “Hope everyone who works there will be okay. I have very fond memories of my time at the Chronicle.”

The Belfast and District branch of the National Union of Journalists said local news is being “wiped out by the collapse of the print-journalism media model and the flight of advertising online”. Branch chair Robin Wilson, said: “Our thoughts are with our colleagues at the Chronicle. For too many journalists now, a career is being replaced by constant insecurity. Stormont has to recognise that information is a public good. It has to support local media—for example through public advertising—especially if they convert to social enterprises, so that towns and villages don’t become a news desert.”