LOCAL NEWSPAPER WEEK: Politicians agree they wouldn't be without the Oxford Mail

County council leader Ian Hudspeth, left, and city councillor Colin Cook

County council leader Ian Hudspeth, left, and city councillor Colin Cook

First published in News
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thisisoxfordshire: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Didcot and Wallingford. Call me on 01865 425425

LEADING politicians and other civic leaders have explained why they value the Oxford Mail so much – and would not want to live without it.

City council leader Bob Price said the paper “understood” different communities in different parts of the city and reflected their needs well in its news pages, including the need for new housing on the edge of the city.

“I hope local papers are here to stay. I think it would be a great loss if they were not around.

“I am still a fan of the old-fashioned physical product because once you have got it in your hand you can dip into it and go back to articles later in a way you might not with the Internet, which is good for breaking news.”

Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth agreed the Oxford Mail was an important part of local democracy, even if it meant reporters holding him to account.

He said: “There are times when I want Oxford Mail journalists to go away because they are digging away at something uncomfortable but I always try to answer their questions.

“The Oxford Mail reported fairly and accurately on the council’s budget cuts.”

Colin Cook, the city council’s executive member for city development, said the paper’s dedicated team of reporters were equipped with the skills to access vital information that might otherwise be hidden away.

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He added: “We live in an open society and anyone who tries to hide stuff away will eventually be found out.

“We can all grumble about individual reporters who make officers’ lives a misery because they are asking for information but we are happy to hand it over.”

Matthew Barber, leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, based in Abingdon, said local papers in Oxfordshire provided a platform for politicians to communicate with the public.

He added: “We rely on the media to get our positive message across.

“I think Freedom of Information legislation has provided a cultural shift and my default mechanism is to give journalists the information they need, regardless of whether an FOI request has been submitted.

“We want a dialogue with the public and the local paper has an important role to play in that.

“And any breaking news will go up on the paper’s website straight away.”

Our Westminster representatives were equally impressed with the Oxford Mail’s contribution to their constituencies.

Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry said: “For many years, local newspapers have played an important part in ensuring local people know what is going on in their area and holding people locally to account.

“However, whether it is printed or online they serve a very important role and a vibrant local free press underpins vibrant local communities.”

Wantage MP Ed Vaizey said: “Local newspapers are an incredibly important resource to communities throughout the UK.

“They help to tie communities together, promote community spirit and are an invaluable means of raising the awareness of local issues.

“I think the local newspapers in my patch do a fantastic job.”

A VALUED COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTION

IT is not just those in politics who value the contribution the newspaper makes to the community.

Traders’ spokesman Graham Jones, of traders’ group Rescue Oxford, said: “The Oxford Mail is crucial for keeping on top of major developments like the Westgate shopping centre.

“Twenty years ago I was on the estates committee of the city council and the redevelopment was first suggested.

“Now, two decades on, work is starting and over the past 20 years the Oxford Mail has charted all the stages along the way.

“Some readers prefer to pick up the paper itself but the Oxford Mail website is a valuable resource for information which I use all the time and an increasing number of elderly people are becoming very web-savvy.

“The website is a resource that can be accessed 24 hours a day.”

Peter Thompson, chairman of Oxford Civic Society, said he thought local newspapers still had a vital role to play.

He said: “We are well served in Oxford and the local papers fulfil their role in informing people objectively about major issues in a user-friendly format that is attractive to read.

“The letters pages provide a useful forum for people’s views on all sorts of issues.”

Sandie Griffith, secretary of the Covered Market Traders’ Association, welcomed the Oxford Mail’s coverage in recent years and said: “We need the paper to take an interest in the Covered Market because it gives the traders a voice and helps us to communicate with our customers.”

County chairman of the Royal British Legion Jim Lewendon praised the Oxford Mail for its coverage of Oxfordshire’s military bases, the Turning the Pages ceremony, in which fallen soldiers lives are remembered, and repatriations of those who have died in military conflicts.

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  • Jim Lewendon, chairman of the Oxfordshire branch of the Royal British Legion

Mr Lewendon said: “When the repatriations first started to come past Headley Way on the way to the John Radcliffe Hospital, the Oxford Mail was there from the start and its coverage has always been appropriate and respectful. It does a damn good job.”

The Rt Rev John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, said: “The Diocese values the work of local newspapers in helping to inform the public of news, as it happens. I know that reporters work hard to write balanced, accurate and interesting articles in pressured conditions and to serve their local community well.

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  • The Rt Rev John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford

"I enjoy the positive relationship the Diocese has with the Oxford Mail and enjoy reading great stories and seeing great pictures from our churches in newsprint.”

LOCAL NEWSPAPER WEEK EXPLAINED

  • LOCAL Newspaper Week is an annual initiative by the newspaper industry and the Newspaper Society to highlight the important role played by local papers in communities across the UK.
  • From today to May 18, this year’s campaign called Making a Difference will highlight how the Oxford Mail impacts the lives of ordinary people.
  • Whether it is raising funds for a life-saving operation, keeping a hospital unit open, campaigning for justice or cleaning up a park, local papers – in print, online, on mobile, on tablets and on social media – can bring positive change.
  • Newspaper Society communications director Lynne Anderson said: “People have always turned to the regional press for help when they have nowhere else to go. The aim of this year’s Local Newspaper Week is to showcase how the local paper, as the trusted voice in its community, can go into battle on behalf of readers, give voice to their concerns and change lives for the better. What’s fascinating is how editors are using online and social media to harness growing audiences and armies of Twitter followers to amplify editorial campaigns and get results faster than they could in print alone.”

HISTORY OF THE OXFORD MAIL

  • IN 1928, Oxford was served by three local weekly papers – The Oxford Times, the Oxford Journal and Oxford Chronicle, and three London evening papers.
  • Many felt this should be enough to satisfy the reading habits of the 67,000 residents. But Frank Gray and Sir Charles Starmer decided to launch the Oxford Mail and the first edition, pictured below, hit the streets on December 12, 1928.

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  • The Mayor of Oxford was the first official visitor to the Oxford Mail’s new offices in New Inn Hall Street. William Gray’s name appears on the first page of the visitors’ book, contained in the paper’s archives.
  • Staff moved from New Inn Hall Street in 1972 to the current offices in Osney Mead, with one journalist, Anthony Wood, transporting his belongings by boat.

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