Martin Tideswell: Historic Sentinel will continue to serve communities proudly
THERE is a book in the mini library in my office. It is blue with gold lettering and is entitled: 'Rendezvous With The Past: Sentinel Centenary'.
It celebrates the first 100 years of the newspaper I work for and, unbelievably, was published back in 1954 – almost 20 years before I was born.
That's right, The Sentinel is 158 years old. Its first issue emerged on January 7, 1854, and it was sold for threepence.
Since then, through two World Wars, various economic crises, under several monarchs, and despite numerous technological advances, this newspaper has been part and parcel of life in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire.
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Last week, however, some of our colleagues in the broadcast media were voicing The Sentinel's obituary.
Blurring the stories of the takeover of our parent company with a separate decision to close the Daily Mail's printing press in Stoke-on-Trent, they were helpfully reading us the last rites.
The first many of us knew of the rumours of our demise were from the messages of condolence which appeared on social media on Thursday morning.
'Sad to hear about The Sentinel closing' Tweeted one concerned city councillor.
Then readers began ringing in and advertisers started querying their accounts.
Suffice to say the Editor-in-Chief wasn't best pleased and the thin partition wall separating our rooms did little to muffle his annoyance.
To be fair, many 'experts' – usually former journalists or academics – have been predicting The Sentinel's imminent closure for several years now.
Indeed, if I had a fiver for every time someone had claimed the end is nigh for us old-fashioned print hacks here at Etruria I'd have enough money to, well... buy an annual subscription for The Sentinel.
The doom-mongers' logic is simple. The circulation figures of every newspaper in the country – both national and local – have fallen over the past 20 years, thanks in large part to the advent of the internet and digital media.
They argue that people can now access information on their telephones and other hand-held devices or computers at home and in the workplace and many enjoy the immediacy of broadcast media.
It is also absolutely correct to say the economic downturn has hit advertising revenues hard and my industry has suffered more than its fair share of redundancies since 2008.
On the face of it, the prognosis seems gloomy and it is, of course, in the interests of our colleagues in radio and television to talk up our decline.
Their pessimism is shared by many former newspaper journalists turned public relations professionals/retired persons espousing the view that standards have fallen and things are 'not how they were in their day'.
At the same time we have seen the rise of so-called 'citizen journalism'.
It seems anyone can be a journalist these days. You don't need any training, you don't need any knowledge of the law and you don't need to be able to assimilate information or even string a sentence together.
Just get yourself access to the internet, a funky pseudonym and an attitude and, hey presto, you're Clark Kent. Or not. You see, it's one thing to write some unsubstantiated nonsense on a website read by three men and a dog and another thing entirely to have your work printed in a format which is properly scrutinised daily by hundreds of thousands of people.
Very few people record radio station news bulletins or can be bothered to listen again or watch TV news programmes on the internet.
However, there are plenty who will march into The Sentinel's reception waving a copy of yesterday's paper and crying foul if we make a mistake.
Working for a newspaper is harder than working as a broadcast journalist and please don't let anyone ever tell you different.
As one of the few people left at The Sentinel who has ever had the dubious privilege of making a phone call and saying the immortal words: 'Stop the press', I'd just like to say: Don't write us off just yet.
The Sentinel still sells almost 50,000 copies every day – making it the sixth biggest-selling regional newspaper in the country.
In addition, our website is visited by more than 400,000 unique users each month. See, we can do new-fangled too.
Here at Etruria we employ nearly 50 full-time journalists and still see it as vital to cover council meetings and court hearings and inquests every day – something no other media organisation locally has the staff to do on anything other than an occasional basis.
How many times does a regional television camera crew visit the ST postcode area each month? How often do you hear local radio stations following our lead on stories?
What's more, The Sentinel still understands the importance of championing the communities it serves – as do its journalists, many of whom are local to the area.
Think about the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year Awards; The Sentinel's Business Awards; the Class Act campaign for local schools; the Young Journalist Awards and Stoke's Top Talent variety competition.
Whether it's through the Our Heroes community awards, the Save Our Staffords campaign or by breaking the stories such as those which led to the removal of the discredited board of directors at Port Vale – this newspaper provides what I honestly believe is an invaluable service.
The Sentinel had been doing its job for 118 years when yours truly was born and I'm confident it will still be delivering journalism to local people long after I've gone.
We walk with the ghosts of colleagues long since passed here at The Sentinel and let me tell you we carry the burden of the weight of history proudly.
So the next time someone tells you the local rag is finished, just give a wry smile and tell them you'll only believe it when you read it in The Sentinel.