Almost 50 years ago Tim Albert was a trainee reporter (aka a “cub”) for the Tavistock Times in Devon. He described his experiences there and the lessons that he learned from them. It was a great change for him to move from Wimbledon where the local countryside was Wimbledon Common to the wide open moors of the West Country. His memories were not always rosy. Tavistock then was a sleepy town where some locals had never left the county. There was a severe lack of social opportunities, especially of young females! However, he benefited from the training scheme for journalists set up by Hugh Cudlipp, as did both Val MacDiermid and Alistair Campbell.
He showed some high quality photos taken by the staff photographer, Jim Thorington, of dog shows, flower shows and carnival queens which had accompanied his reports. His photo of the newspaper office with numerous typewriters and telephones illustrated how much has changed in 40 years. He reported on births, marriages and deaths (aka “hatches, matches and dispatches”) and he noted that, unlike today, an obituary was written by a reporter after an interview with a family member, not by the family itself.
He commented on local social issues such as access in the town for wheelchair users or the refusal of a pension to a war veteran. National events could be of local interest. In 1972 there was the Three Day Week with a restricted power supply. Later that year saw the arrival locally of many Asian immigrants exiled from Uganda.
Sometimes his interviewees could be unco-operative or hostile, like the ex-postmaster who had signed the Official Secrets Act. He learned some lessons the hard way, eg, never go to a post theatre show party if you have already published a criticism! He noted that the outcome of a story is often unpredictable – a piece about maggots in pork led to an increase in sales of pork products! Perhaps it is true that no publicity is bad publicity.
He mentioned, with regret, the decline in local newspapers rooted in the community and noted the reduced opportunities nowadays to call the authorities (including councils, judges and officials) to account. Pieces in modern media may be written by someone “with an agenda” and there is the dependence on a constant electrical supply. His book Mostly We Had It Good about his life was available to purchase afterwards. All in all it was a varied, informative, humorous and thought-provoking presentation.