East Anglia: 140 years of faithful and fair reporting - and why we are not all like the journalists on the Walford Gazette
Today the East Anglian Daily Times celebrates 140 years of being at the forefront of local news here in Suffolk and north Essex, here editor-in-chief Terry Hunt takes us back to where it all started.
Since Tuesday, October 13, 1874, the EADT has published 44,170 editions and reported millions of stories. It has reflected an astonishing transformation in the world from the Victorian era to today’s hi-tech society. In that time, there have been six monarchs, two World Wars, and countless Prime Ministers.
Throughout those 14 decades, the EADT has at all times sought to report fairly and honestly, proudly keeping faith with the guiding principles which were set out by our first editor, Sir Frederick Wilson, in the very first edition of this newspaper.
In his first editorial, Sir Frederick made important promises about his fledgling paper: “It will report everything that occurs in the district faithfully and fairly, leaving good arguments to produce their just effect without editorial advice, or, as is too often the case, editorial misrepresentation.’’
Those words, written 140 years ago, retain their power and relevance today. Every journalist who has ever worked on the EADT has understood that its success is built on trust and integrity. Those attributes have become even more important in recent years, as confidence in national newspapers has been so badly damaged.
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It is one of the reasons why I feel so privileged to be only the eighth editor of the EADT. I am incredibly lucky to have what, for me, is the best job in Suffolk, my home county.
When I think back to Sir Frederick Wilson and his colleagues, I am filled with admiration at their vision – and bravery. The business plan was simple. There was no local daily newspaper serving Suffolk, so they saw an opportunity. Because the national papers didn’t arrive in the county until lunchtime, a local daily could beat them by hours.
- 1 Ipswich Town reveal full retained list as six first-teamers get extended stays and eight depart
- 2 Town take up contract options on duo with plenty of departures still expected
- 3 Chambers and Skuse set to be headline exits on day of departures at Ipswich Town
- 4 Mark Heath: The Town players Cook should keep and release today
- 5 Suffolk estate which featured on TV show on the market for £1.25m
- 6 Town confirm four more exits at end of season
- 7 Chambers and Skuse to leave Ipswich Town
- 8 Man in 20s dies in collision between lorry and pedestrian on A14
- 9 New cocktail bar and tapas restaurant to open in Ipswich
- 10 Search for man after girl, 10, accosted at B&M store in Stowmarket
As Sir Frederick wrote all those years ago, merchants, manufacturers and farmers who took the EADT (or Daily Times, as he called it) would know all the prices and market information hours earlier, before the working day had begun, instead of having to wait until it had finished.
I really do wish I could go back in time and have a conversation with Sir Frederick. How did he tell people about his new venture? These days a whole marketing campaign would be drawn up, using all media platforms available. Back then, Sir Frederick had only word of mouth to rely on to spread the message. How many did they print? How many did they sell?
Of course, Murphy’s Law played its part. Within a short time of the EADT launching, all the national papers started arriving at Ipswich station at 7am. For a while, the EADT wobbled financially, but Sir Frederick memorably vowed that he and his colleagues would do “What any Englishman would do - fight it out.’’ Thank goodness for that!
In the early days, before motorised transport, distribution consisted of horses and carts or bicycle handcarts. There are some great stories about those days. My favourite is about a young lad who was pedalling furiously across Rushmere Heath, heading for Woodbridge station, with his handcart loaded with EADTs.
It was a dark night, and his journey was unceremoniously interrupted when he crashed into something, When he picked himself up, thankfully unhurt, he realised he’d collided with the rear quarters of an elephant, part of a circus which was on the move. The animal, we are reliably informed, was unhurt and largely unperturbed!
Circulation figures from those very early days have been lost in the mists of time, but we do know that by 1920 the EADT was selling 12,000 copies a day.
The paper grew in influence. Never sensational in character, the EADT has always fought for what’s best for the communities it serves, throughout Suffolk and north Essex. Staying true to Sir Frederick’s promises, the “Anglian’’ will never presume to tell it readers what to think. Instead, it seeks to set out the arguments and then leave people to reach their own conclusions.
It is, and always has been, politically neutral. It does not support or oppose any political party. It does, of course, comment on specific issues. So, one day, our editorial might be supporting a Conservative initiative. If you only read that copy, you might leap to the conclusion that we are a Tory paper. But then, the very next day, we might well be praising something the Labour Party is doing. Or the Lib Dems. Balance in all things.
I touch on journalistic ethics in a separate piece but, suffice to say, the EADT depends 100pc for its success - indeed, its very existence - on the support and goodwill of its readers and its advertisers. Without you, we would not be here.
A few years ago, a cross-section of staff here went through a lengthy and important exercise on the EADT. It was centred on a large piece of research in which we spoke to 1,500 people in Suffolk. They ranged from people who read the paper every day, to folk who had heard of the EADT but never read it.
It was fascinating piece of work. A few highlights stand out. Firstly, the level of trust the EADT enjoys - the very cornerstone of our relatiionship with our readers and advertisers. Second was the definition of “local’’ to most of our readers - a half hour car journey.
Thirdly, we challenged ourselves to answer this question: “What is the EADT for? Why do we get out of bed every morning, go to work, and produce a daily newspaper?’’
The easy answer is that it’s to make money. Of course, the EADT is part of a business and it needs to earn its corn. But it’s much more than that. After a lengthy debate, we reached what, when you think about it, is a fairly obvious conclusion: The EADT uses its influence to make Suffolk and north Essex good places in which to live, work, and play.
A force for good, in other words. Which is diametrically opposed to the views of some people who still cling to the mistaken belief that “bad news sells papers.’’ Not true. We have very clear evidence that people want positive, uplifting news from their local daily.
So, six days a week, we try to reflect life in our communities - the good, and the not so good. We do have to report on crimes, crashes, and court cases because, sadly, they are part of life’s rich tapestry.
But, thank goodness, so are stories of celebration and success - sometimes against the odds. They’re the stories we really love to write, and we we think our readers enjoy most.
It’s been a long journey since October 13, 1874. The world has changed so much. So have Suffolk and north Essex. And so has the EADT, at least in the way it looks. We carry news on the front page these days! But in character, I believe the newspaper stays true to its roots. I hope that if Sir Frederick was able to come back, just for one day, and read an up to date copy of his “Daily Times,’’ then he would approve.
Newspaper ethics have been much in the news recently, and a lot of it has made for very uncomfortable reading for journalists.
Laws have been broken and people’s lives badly affected by some national newspapers chasing “scoops.’’ Some of the behaviour has been utterly shameful.
It has sadly brought into real life some of the caricature journalists you see on TV or in films. Fans of EastEnders will recall cameo appearances by a reporter from the fictional Walford Gazette - a loathsome creature who would apparently be quite happy to sell his granny in pursuit of a big, sensational story!
Unfortunately, some people choose to believe that all journalists operate that way - including us. I remember a telephone call I took in the office on the Sunday when Diana, Princess of Wales was killed. The caller shouted: “Happy now you’ve killed her?” before putting the phone down. I know that was a time of high emotion, but nonetheless it was an illustrative moment.
I can assure you that not all newspapers, or journalists, are the same. The cornerstone of the EADT’s relationship with its readers and advertisers is trust. Research tells us that people trust the stories we print. It is the most precious and important attribute that we have, and every young journalist who joins us is in no doubt about that.
We are part of the community, and we rely on the goodwill and support of local people, organisations and businesses for our continued good health.
It doesn’t mean we’re pushovers. People who do daft things, break the law, or spend public money - our money - wastefully or unwisely won’t always enjoy our headlines. But that’s an important part of our job - the same as every other good local newspaper.
Yes, we do make mistakes. We write and publish an average of 100 stories a day - 150 on Saturdays - and with that volume of words, written at speed, human frailty means we will make occasional errors. When pointed out, we will acknowledge our mistakes, and do our honourable best to rectify them.
The EADT has always happily abided by the code of the PCC, and now IPSO, its successor, which regulates the way journalists conduct themselves.
We don’t hack people’s phones, or have “agendas’’ - hidden or otherwise - against people or organisations. Our only “agenda” is to do whatever we can to help make Suffolk and north Essex as successful and safe as possible.