Fifteen years ago, pretty much to the day, I started work as the arts editor of the Stroud News and Journal, having spent the previous few months turning up on the doorstep and pestering the then editor, Skip Walker, for work.
The arts were booming in the town at the time – SVA was really hitting its stride, Damien Hirst’s studio had arrived in the area, and there was much to be excited about at the grassroots.
I spent six years building up the arts pages in the paper, intertwining grassroots and commercial arts in a weekly forum, and doing my best to keep it alive in the face of the growing demands of advertising space and the utter disinterest of the sub-editors in Newport (who once cut a review I wrote of a play by two women into nonsensical shreds and then had the nerve to top it with the headline ‘Women Have Fun’ – you can imagine the stick I got in the pub for that…). And then I quit, for pastures slightly better-paid.
Matty Airey took over the role a while later, and has for the last eight years done a sterling job of maintaining the delicate balance between the demands of high art and entertainment, both of which play a major part in Stroud’s life.
And now, fifteen years since the arts pages were allowed room, given space to breathe in the community arts scene and run free of the endless rounds of regurgitated press releases about the usual touring shows at the Bristol Hippodrome, Newsquest, the corporate money-sucker that owns the paper, have made Matty redundant. It was her last day today.
It’s all about profits and corporate bonuses, no doubt (their parent company is, without irony, called Gannet), and it is another nail in the coffin of the Stroud News and Journal’s life as a paper that cares about the community. The journalists there work hard at it, but are under enormous pressure for the limited pay they receive, overwhelmed with the need for clickbait non-stories to drive advertising.
Of course, the bosses aren’t getting rid of the pages – no, they’re too useful, and tend to draw in advertising. So the arts pages will be run by the person who edits the Cirencester sister paper’s arts pages.
I’m sure they’ll try their best, but the days of someone turning up at the News and Journal office and talking up a gig they haven’t got a press release for are over – we’re back to regurgitated press releases and cut and paste arts churnalism of the worst sort, and the loss of a community hub in a widely read paper – which would have been so much better off if it hadn’t been bought up by the rapacious vampires of Newsquest when Baileys gave up their small news empire nearly three decades ago.
Stroud is a town that thrives on its arts scene, for which it is nationally known. This cretinous, retrograde, philistine move is sure proof that the paper’s corporate overlords understand nothing of, and couldn’t care less about, the town. Just so long as they can keep sucking in advertising money and selling off the assets.
I’m in mourning right now: for the hard work I put in to building those arts pages up; particularly for Matty Airey’s tireless work on them over the last eight years; for the state of local journalism nationwide, desperately in hock as it is to money-grubbers; and for the arts scene in Stroud, which has lost one of its most potent focal points.
This stinks. I dread to think what they’ll axe next.
Oh hang on – maybe it’ll be ALL the journalists… (click here and you’ll see what I mean)