The time has come for one of the biggest changes in the history of the Craven Herald & Pioneer.
On Thursday November 5, the newspaper will switch from its broadsheet format to a new, compact size.
At the same time, we will be taking what is, for many, the monumental step of replacing the front page advertisements with news.
Since I became editor two years ago, hardly a week has gone by without a reader asking: “When are you taking the ads off the front page, then?” I have always answered that we had no concrete plans to do so. And, until a few weeks ago, we hadn’t.
Reactions to that reply have been divided – between disappointment and a rather disbelieving relief. Some have shaken their heads, pityingly, and said that the newspaper cannot go on living in the past.
But others have told me that the Craven Herald’s front page is an institution and that we tamper with it at our peril.
One reader wrote (anonymously, or we would have published the letter) to say that he or she always looked forward to Friday night, curling up with a cup of tea and the Herald in front of the fire to plan a week’s activities based on the multifarious community events announced on Page One. Another – a regular visitor to the Dales – said, rather patronisingly, that he loved the Herald because it was so “quaint”.
So why are we biting the bullet and becoming “just like every other newspaper” as yet another reader put it, scathingly?
This recession, in a way that its many predecessors throughout the Herald’s history didn’t, has hit just about everybody deeply and severely and local newspapers have been far from immune.
If the Herald is to survive for our children and grandchildren it must adapt and meet the demands of a changing world, changing needs and changing tastes as it seeks to find new readers and customers. Who would have thought just a few years ago, for instance, that much of the Herald would be available to read on the internet every day?
We believe the answer is to provide our unrivalled local news service in an easier-to-handle and more eye-catching format, a format we describe as “compact”.
The technical printing term is “tabloid”, but that has been abused in the past and has traditionally carried some unfortunate overtones. But attitudes to going compact have changed. Serious nationals like the Times and Independent have taken the step and their readers quickly got over their initial apoplexy after realising the benefits of a more convenient size and twice as many pages to read.
Going compact no longer equates with going down-market; the old broadsheet nationals did not do so and they found that making the change brought them new readers.
In the same way, we will ensure that the Herald maintains its traditional values despite taking on a different appearance. And we believe that the new look will attract those who may previously have been put off by the paper’s design.
This is what has happened in recent years when similar broadsheets, in similarly rural areas, have gone compact. Both the Darlington and Stockton Times and the Westmorland Gazette, which border on the Craven Herald’s circulation area, have successfully made the change.
But we know that, for some readers, what we are doing is anathema. For some, the Herald’s refusal to change its front page has been a comfort as the world has spun ever faster. That front page has been a symbol of an older, slower and more secure England.
To those readers, we say this. For 156 years the Craven Herald has kept, at its core, a commitment to reflect the lives of its readers. As they have changed, it has changed. That change may have been very slow, but it has been certain. A look back through our files shows that the Dales, Skipton, Barnoldswick, South Craven – and all the communities who value the Herald as THEIR newspaper – are not set in aspic.
Few people still drive a horse and cart, or even a Morris Traveller. Far fewer work on the land or in the mills than did even a couple of decades ago. Television, international travel and the internet have changed the way we live.
And, though the Herald’s front page has stayed pretty much the same for a century, the inside pages have evolved in their writing style, typography and use of photographs. Why, the Herald even introduced colour and, at the time, some said THAT was a step too far.
Now, though, we are taking a bigger stride. We hope that you will take it with us. We do believe that, once you get used to the new Herald, you will find it just as committed to Craven and, in fact, even more enjoyable and easier to read.
One final thought: those front page ads won’t be disappearing. You’ll be able to find them just as easily in their new slot – on Page Two every week. Perhaps that’s not such a giant leap to take after all ...
Peter Greenwood, Editor