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Hold The Front Page!

by Myf Thompson, Curator, Batemans Bay Heritage Museum.

News Corp Australia recently announced that more than 100 local and regional newspapers will become digital only or disappear entirely.

At the Museum, local newspapers are a primary source for stories and information. Beside the BMD’s (life blood to family historians), many hours can be spent pondering how quickly our streetscapes, and political promises, change.

I confess to a personal preference for hard copy. On Saturday mornings, when I was about seven, my father would clip his trouser legs and strap me into a metal crate contraption for the five mile cycle ride to his office at the Southend Standard. Providing respite for my mother, it was also a ‘one up’ in sibling rivalry, introducing just me to the magical world of ‘where daddy works’.

The Southend Standard (1873 -) was then an august publication, family owned and proudly independent as was common in regional newspapers of the 1950s in the UK and here. Twice a week this substantial broadsheet billowed across kitchen tables or appeared neatly folded on the desks of civic and commercial life across Southend-on-Sea and Districts, population 260,000.

As sub-editor my father’s desk was a mound of photos and typed stories as he laid out the pages. I’d sit reading in the glow of his desk lamp until he took me down to the print room in the bowels of the building. First came the vibration, then a wincing assault from large machinery, and finally the smell – hot metal and ink. Flashing past on the presses, headlines, editorial, classifieds, ‘all the news that’s fit to print’. It was out of proportion to anything else in my life, and very exciting.

At home, my brother and I would lie on the floor with sheets of blank newsprint, drawing with the purloined red and black wax crayons that my father used to mark up stories. One particularly cold winter, I recall him up in the attic hammering used sheets of imprinted aluminium plates onto the battens to provide extra warmth. I soon gave up trying to read something back to front and upside down, but as insulation it worked quite well.

Like the open mouth of a humpback, over the years the Standard swallowed numerous little papers that were once essential to their rural districts: a roll call of Gazettes, Recorders, Banners, Observers, Chronicles, and Stars.

The Standard itself was finally overtaken by a daily paper pursuing a very different audience; no longer the ‘old lady’ he had wholeheartedly served for more than 40 years, from copy boy to Editor, my father retired.

Whilst welcoming all the immediacy and vitality online media provides, personally, and as a historian, I feel deeply for those journalists who work in local and regional newspapers. They champion their community and hold a caring mirror to our lives; the inevitable move, from print to online, will be our loss as well as theirs.

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