Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Local news - read all about it!
Join us at our Community Open Day at Emojies
Next week it will be 163 years since the very first copy of the Dewsbury Reporter was printed.
It is also a special anniversary for me because it will mark my 63rd year of working on the paper.
I started working at the Reporter in August 1958, the very week the staff were busy preparing for the paper’s centenary.
I remember vividly all the talk that day was about the forthcoming centenary supplement they were working on.
Not surprisingly, the first job they gave me – the office junior aged 17 - was to go into the cellar and bring up some old Reporter files to look through.
My interest in local history started on that day, and here I am all these years later still looking through old Reporter files and still finding them fascinating.
The Dewsbury Reporter was born in the August of 1858 and its first home was in a small office in Daisy Hill where Ward’s Furnishings used to be.
It was owned by the Huddersfield Examiner, printed in Huddersfield, and brought to Dewsbury by horse and cart late on Friday night.
It started life as a four-page broadsheet which cost three halfpence (quite a lot in those days) but there was no news on the front page, only advertisements.
Its editor was a most remarkable man, Mr William W Yates, who before entering journalism had been a commercial traveller, living in Leicester.
He was self-trained as most journalists were in those days, but he quickly rose to become one of the most respected men in the town.
He held an honoured place in the ranks of journalism and with his pen wielded great influence in the town.
In 1897, however, the Reporter changed beyond all recognition after a group of local businessmen bought it and formed it into a limited company under the title The Reporter Ltd.
The new owners were all wealthy men, most of them mill owners, and all of them members of the Liberal Party.
They made many changes, the first being dispensing of the services of Mr Yates, who had worked for the paper for 36 years.
All the new shareholders had to sign a declaration stating they supported Liberal principles and the new company moved from the offices in Daisy Hill into a spacious building in Wellington Road.
Modern linotype machines, the best in the business, were bought and the new-styled Reporter was soon on the streets.
The paper promised to uphold the cause of Liberalism – a promise it kept long after most local papers had surrendered their allegiance to political parties.
It was one of the first weekly papers in the country to put news on its front page instead of adverts.
That was a bold move in those days.
All the directors were God-fearing men, who attended various chapels in the town, including Congregational, Baptist churches and Methodist churches.
The paper continued to support the Temperance Movement and to expose abuses and injustices and always championed the better cause.
All these principles were upheld zealously by the new owners, who also took the decision to reduce the price of the paper from three half-pence to just one penny.
Slowly but surely the circulation increased from just over 1,500 to over 10,000, making it the biggest selling weekly newspaper in the Heavy Woollen District.
All these facts, and the paper’s rich history, I have researched over the years, and I’m proud to say that during this time, I have worked with some fantastic people, who taught me a great deal.
The first thing I learned as a young reporter was that everything that happened in the town was newsworthy, no matter how small.
Time and again I was told that nothing was too small or insignificant that the paper couldn’t find a few lines of space for it.
With no television to keep people entertained in those days, it was these little news items which became talking points for them throughout the week.
I remember being told that “news” was something you told people which they hadn’t heard before.
It was stressed upon me that news didn’t have to be earth-shattering as long as it was something people would be reading for the first time.
And so we were sent to events like funerals and told to write down the names of every person who went into the church, on the assumption that those who hadn’t been, might be curious to know who had.
My ambitions of covering the big stories, like murders and robberies, were quickly dashed the day I stood outside St John’s Church, Dewsbury Moor, in the pouring rain writing down the name of every mourner who went inside.
It was a tradition which the Reporter continued for many years and it did help to sell a lot of papers.
But, you don’t need me to tell you that the world of newspapers has changed dramatically over the years, especially since the arrival of new technology.
News now appears on Facebook and Twitter at the press of a button, and many people are now reading their local paper online.
But perhaps they don’t realise that if a paper is forced to close down because of declining circulation and loss of advertising revenue, there will be nothing to read online.
Next week, the Reporter is holding a Community Open Day in Dewsbury to give readers an opportunity to meet the journalists who now write for the paper.
It will be held in Dewsbury’s newest restaurant, Emojies, formerly Bailey’s Cafe, on Friday, August 13 from 11am until 1pm. Although the restaurant, at Market Place, doesn’t officially open until the end of this month, the new owner has kindly offered to open it for our event.
Visitors will have the opportunity to meet the paper’s new editor, Dominic Brown, a Spen Valley lad who did his work experience at the Reporter’s Cleckheaton office, and reporter Martin Shaw, who began his career in journalism as a cub reporter on the Batley News.
You can’t get more local than that, can you?