Why Lyme Regis needs a local paper

LymeOnline launch
Flashback to February 2018 when experienced journalists Tim Dixon, Geoff Baker and Richard Austin helped Francesca and I to celebrate the launch of LymeOnline

Experienced journalist Geoff Baker comes out of retirement for a one-off blog to celebrate LymeOnline’s first anniversary

SEVENTY years ago when newspapers and the BBC were all in black and white, the TV cameras were sent to Lyme to film a remarkable birth – of a local newspaper.

Such was the occasion that R.F. Delderfield, the great English novelist who wrote ‘To Serve Them All My Days’ and ‘A Horseman Riding By’, was asked by the BBC to appear in the newsreel report of the first edition of The Clarion coming off the printing press.

Delderfield was invited to take part because he also wrote ‘All Over The Town’, his first novel published in 1947, which tells the story of a reporter returning from the war to run a local newspaper, also called The Clarion.

Two years after Delderfield’s book came out, Pinewood Films made a movie about it, which was set in Lyme and co-starred a young Bryan Forbes and, as it happens, my Mum – briefly seen walking up Bridge Street.

Anyway, the reason why the BBC made this newsreel was because this new Lyme paper was being produced by just one man and that, TV chiefs judged, was remarkable.

Seventy years on, when LymeOnline was launched a year ago, a few of us contacted the BBC and said: “Oi, just to tip you off, it’s happening again, only this time the newspaper is being produced by just one woman”.

Now you would have thought that in this day and age, when the New Feminism is so strident that it is almost an evangelist religion, that BBC Spotlight would have sent a camera crew here to film Chezzie Evans [editor Francesca Evans] at work in her green eyeshade, because her achievement is no less remarkable than was the story of The Clarion seven decades ago.

But nobody came from the BBC, Spotlight wasn’t interested. Maybe they had a cat running the newsdesk that day and it couldn’t see the story: that at a time when local newspapers are closing all over Britain, one young woman was bucking the depressing trend and bravely maintaining a fine tradition to provide an important service.

Perhaps if Chezzie had launched a one-woman Facebook page, TV cameras would be clattering all over the place in a fever to cover the story. Such are the sad times that we live in. But, and not for the first time, the BBC missed the story. And that’s a shame because what Chezzie has done, and is continuing to do, deserves celebration; her LymeOnline is a triumph of spirit-breaking hard work, dogged determination, sheer talent and probably some tears.

And we should thank her for it, because this town, like any town, needs a local newspaper, it provides a heart for the community, it tells us what’s going on. Without it, we would all be in the dark regarding so much.

We wouldn’t know what the town council is spending our money on, we wouldn’t know about the rows in the Guildhall, we wouldn’t know about the pelican crossing debate, nor about the risk of dog bites on the beach, nor about road closures and pub closures, nor what on earth is going on with the cinema. There is so much we would not have a clue about our own community if it was not for Chezzie’s newspaper.

Yes, I’m sure the self-appointed citizen journalists would report some of it, badly-written and appallingly-spelled on Facebook. But local newspapers provide so much more than the puerile tittle tattle of the “community” posts of social media, they provide the long view, the in-depth story, the story behind the story, and, unlike the gossip of digital forums, what they tell us is researched, fact-checked, balanced and is not hysterical.

Yes, I know that her Mum and Dad have a hand in the production of LymeOnline, but in the main it is Chezzie’s handiwork that benefits this town and we should be grateful for it keeping us in the know.

And although they said it wouldn’t last, it has, and if I had half a quid I’d bet that LymeOnline will run and run and in 70 years time it will still be running, because although social media is the new big thing, nothing beats a local newspaper for telling us what’s really going on – all over the town.

To keep a local newspaper going for a year, pretty much on your tod, is something to be hugely proud of. It’s been a proud year for the entire Evans family, one that has seen one of them receive the MBE for sterling service to the community and journalism. It wasn’t Chezzie, but I like to think that MBE stands for another accolade in her case – Magnificent Bloody Effort.

Well done Chez, you do us proud.

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Woodmead Halls

3 Comments

  1. C’mon Geoff, let’s not make this a one-off, you’re too good to waste in retirement mate. This site is a great way for an ex-pat such as myself to keep up with the goings on in the town I grew up in and I love Francesca for doing this. Good on you Pip – she’s a chip off the old block for sure. The more stuff I get to read the better. My best to you all from sunny (though a little nippy over the last few days) Los Angeles.

    Oh, and as a by-the-way, one of the first movies I saw on Netflix over here was ‘All Over The Town’ and my American wife was entranced :o)

  2. Good on you Geoff. As a total failure as a cadet journalist at the Bridport News – I got the sack after three months! – I am in awe of Francesca’s work. She and Pip have kept me in touch with home for many years. I love Australia but God I miss Lyme!

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