Local paper moves to digital-only news operation

Running behind tech. Dumbarton Reporter will move to a digital-only operation.

By Bill Heaney

The print edition of the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter [formerly the County Reporter] is to cease publishing its print edition next week.
It was the new boy on the block [and so was I] when it went to press around 60 years ago on the back of a huge exclusive story about the closure of Denny’s shipyard.
I cut my editorial teeth on it, pictured right,  when Craig M Jeffrey, the publisher of the Helensburgh Advertiser, appointed me editor at the age of just 21.
It was a great wee paper, truly local and reader friendly, which the old established Lennox Herald could never be seen to be at that time.
The Reporter was a tabloid with the couthy stories Craig Jeffrey loved and he printed them in black panels all through the paper.
Eight stories per page was what he asked for – and good pictures, which he got from the Fitzgerald Owens News Service, which was housed above Donny Gillies’s newsagents shop in Church Street.
When condemned tenements where homeless men and down and out winos kipped overnight caught fire Bill Owens, a really top journalist, wrote that the cause of the blaze was probably a carelessly cast aside cigar, the readers laughed.
Two stories I recall having covered were the launch of the QE2 from John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank and an interview with a very young Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones when they came to Glasgow.
Another was a court case where defence pleaded that a man charged with drinks driving at the Sheriff Court had got drunk on dolly mixtures.
Tommy Kerr, the newsagent in Glasgow Road, told Craig Jeffrey that he was mad to even think of launching a newspaper in competition with the Lennox Herald. It was so well established at the time.
He would be as well taking the cash he had in a briefcase down to Dumbarton Bridge and throwing it into the Leven.
The Reporter, where some of Scotland’s finest journalists did their initial training, David Young later joined The Times of London and Gerry Burke became a star reporter for The Daily Mail, flourished. Ken Houston went from the Haldane to The Scotsman, Bill Mackintosh to the Evening Times and Ron Lettis to the Press and Journal in Aberdeen.
Joe Donnelly became The Judge in the Sunday Mail.  Andy Skinner and then Donald Fullarton edited The Reporter. The best writer was unquestionably Tom Gallacher. Who can forget Tony McGinlay’s Gare Clyde columns in both papers when Dumbarton FC were promoted in 1972? Gerry Fitzgerald and Bill Owens were two of Scotland’s leading journalists. They had worked for everyone who was anyone and they set up an office in Church Street.
We sometimes sat in for the shorthand writers at Dumbarton Sheriff Court and we were the first local authority public relations officers in Scotland when Gerry Fitzgerald signed a contract with John F. Miller, the Clerk at the old Dunbarton County Council.
The latter I regret seriously since the advent of spin doctors has a great deal to answer for in relation to the diminution of democracy in Dumbarton and elsewhere and is one of the main reasons why newspapers are struggling to survive. The other is that the SNP cut off their advertising revenue from public notices, some of which were supposed to be publicly advertised by law but weren’t. They switched to digital, leaving the world of newspapers in Limbo.
The people in power now spend fortunes on PR departments when reporters covered meetings in the council chambers and the courts.  They spend that money – about £10 million across 32 councils, around £500,000 in West Dunbartonshire – not out of the goodness of their hearts or from civic responsibility but to protect themselves from what they term “bad” publicity, which is really only drawing attention to errors made by institutions.
Naturally they detest The Democrat and have taken sanctions against us.  We treat this as a badge of honour and press on with our “publish and be damned” brand of journalism.
They have failed to mature and grasp the fact that everyone [Samuel Smiles said that a man who never made a mistake never made a discovery] gets things wrong from time to time and, in an open and transparent society which this is not, everyone is entitled to be told about them. That’s democracy, which is dying on the vine with the shift of publications such as The Reporter out of the news stands, on to digital platforms and into the ether.
The worst thing that ever happened to local newspapers in Dunbartonshire and elsewhere is that they were bought out of of local hands (for a pittance in today’s money) and sold to multi-nationals.
Those were the days – Dumbarton Reporter staff pictured in Helensburgh. The editorial, advertising offices and print-works are now closed and the staff has been cut to a minimum by big company asset strippers.
The announcement of this happening appears in The Reporter today:
Newsquest Scotland can today announce that the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter is going digital-only as we embrace the sustainable future of local news journalism.

The Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter will publish its final print edition next week (Tuesday, May 9).  Sister title the Irvine Times will also move to a digital-only operation.

A NQ Scotland spokesperson said: “The present and future is digital and far more readers now engage with the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter and the Irvine Times on our digital platforms than in print – more than 200,000 people in April alone.

“We’re excited to have the chance to continue to serve the people of Dumbarton and Irvine with hard-hitting local journalism that holds power to account and stands up for our communities.

“We’d like to thank the loyal print readers and advertisers who have been with us on this journey – and we’re sure they will continue to support us during this transition.”

Both websites will continue to be staffed and no jobs are at risk.

Top picture: Reporter publisher Craig M Jeffrey, editor Bill Heaney, advertising manager Gordon Terris and others being interviewed for BBC Radio Scotland.

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