Why I think LymeOnline is fulfilling a public service

The first edition of LymeOnline Extra – a compact printed newspaper available on subscription

Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 58 (Friday, May 15 2020)

THIS has been a busy week for the LymeOnline team. Having been forced to suspend our printed version, we decided to work through lockdown so that we could continue keeping the residents of Lyme Regis, Uplyme and Charmouth up to date on all the coronavirus information.

We even set up a new coronavirus platform on which there is in excess of 150 stories and bulletins relating the pandemic.

We saw this as providing an essential public service but we realised that by continuing to work through the crisis we were jeopardising our chances of getting any government funding to help compensate for our loss of advertising revenue.

We have had to temporarily suspend our free printed newspaper due to a the drop in revenue, but we have kept up with a digital version of the paper. We have had to be pretty inventive in filling its columns as there are precious few events to report on with no council meetings, etc. But we have managed to fill 18 pages every fortnight, with the emphasis very much on nostalgia which always goes down well.

Whilst it’s very easy to access the digital pages, you obviously have to have a computer, tablet or smart phone. The problem is that in a town like Lyme Regis, with such a high percentage of elderly people, not everyone is able to embrace with digital age.

On one of my early morning walks a couple of weeks ago I bumped into one of Lyme’s most interesting senior citizens who said how much he missed the printed version of LymeOnline. I told him he could read the pages online but he admitted he did not have a computer with a certain amount of glee.

In a weak moment, I promised to print out the pages and pop them through his door, warning him that he would need a magnifying glass to read the print because they would be on A4 paper and not the usual tabloid size.

He later phone me to say how much he appreciated our efforts and how much he enjoyed reading the paper. A few other senior citizens have also told us how much they have missed their fortnightly LymeOnline and this got me thinking (clearly too much time on my hands).

As LymeOnline is a community not-for-profit enterprise we thought we had to do something for our computerless readers. So today we have published our first LymeOnline Extra.

This is a compact, eight-page printed newspaper containing no advertising but all the main news stories from our website. It’s printed by Advantage Digital Print at Dorchester, which is run by Lyme Regis resident Adrian Wood, who does so much for local organisations, on a better quality of paper and stapled. In size, it falls somewhere between A4 and traditional tabloid.

To cover the print costs we are charging a £2 subscription charge per month for a minimum of three months. That’s £6 for six editions. delivered direct to your door!

Hopefully, by the end of June we will be able to reinstate the full printed edition for free distribution. If not, we will try to continue publishing the Extra edition for as long as readers are prepared to pay for it.

Initiatives like this, I believe, underline what an important role true local newspapers can play in their communities. What a shame that this is not recognised by the government, which is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds advertising in the national press and the big regional publishers, most of whom are still making profits despite the fall in advertising and cover price sales.

Making the most of the outdoors

There has definitely been an increase in the number of people enjoying the sunshine in Lyme Regis since permission was given on Wednesday for people to take more than one exercise a day and being allowed to travel to beauty spots such as parks and beaches. Are the floodgates about to open?

Everyone seemed to be observing the social distancing restrictions, but the fears of local people that an influx of visitors and day-trippers from other parts or the country, where the virus is more prevalent, is still a very sore point on social media.

With a spell of fine weather forecasted, this weekend will be a good test to see how big a problem this may become and then, of course, we have a Bank Holiday to deal with. That will be the acid test and I think the councils will probably be forced to open car parks and toilets by then.

The only thing that might stop this happening is if there is a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases. We should be forever grateful we live in the least contaminated part of the country and I hope we can keep it that way as life crawls towards normality and the town can get back to work.

Finally, another warning about the dreadful exchange of views and comments on Facebook with which even the most ardent FB fans are starting to get fed up. Some of the insults and allegations flying around are really outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour.

Apparently, although I have not seen it, this diary was accused on social media recently of being “racist” – a ridiculous viewpoint as it’s never even mentioned race. I’ve been doing this job long enough, having written comment columns for 20 years or more, to give such comments like this short shrift.

But some of the stuff I have read in recent days not only saddens me but also worries me about the effect it is having on the mental health of those struggling to cope with these difficult days. This is more of a problem than we may think and the NHS is going to be stretched to the limit dealing with this when COVID-19 is eventually beaten.

I am the last person to shutdown public debate, but I would suggest if people are not able to act like decent human beings that some of these Facebook pages should be closed down until the current crisis is over.

And a word of advice for local councillors – don’t get dragged into pathetic arguments, no matter how tempting it might be, in response to the hurtful comments which inhabit the Facebook community. No ones comes out of this sort of spat with any credit.

Before you click off can I recommend you watch Francesca’s excellent video news bulletin this morning which finished with a virtual concert from Lyme Regis Town Band, with the 15 musicians playing their instruments at home. The marvels of technology…

That wonderful author Terry Pratchett  once commented: “It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.” 

Woodmead Halls

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