IT WAS devastating to learn that the Oldham Evening Chronicle had closed its doors last week.
After almost 164 years of continuous publishing, millions of words, hundreds of controversies and stories, and the production of dozens of fine journalists, KPMG were swiftly appointed administrators of the firm last Thursday afternoon.
At the time staff were unwittingly filing their stories, taking advert placements and making calls for a Friday morning edition that would sadly never see the light of day.
Within an hour they were gathered together and told their fate – and that they did not even get the chance to write their own obituary edition seemed particularly cruel to me. They deserved that at least.
I knew the paper had been having financial problems for some time – in particular with a pension deficit – but had always hoped that a solution to be found.
Dave Whaley, the Editor, called in to confidentially update me on the issues just a few weeks earlier.
Characteristically defiant and pragmatic about what might happen his chief thoughts, typically, were for the fate of all his 49 staff. Dave was, however, also deeply concerned about the impact the paper’s potential closure would have for Oldham – and he was right.
I’ve seen some say on social media that Oldham Council will now be quietly rejoicing the Chronicle’s demise, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Many people have already told me they cannot get their head around not being able to go and buy their ‘Chron’ and there is a genuine sense of loss that extends even to ex-pats who still looked forward to reading from afar.
Local media has a vital connection to its people that provides an unmatched service to everyone. It is crucial for communities and democracy.
Many Oldham residents will have appeared in its pages at one time or another and will still have a proud cutting gathering dust somewhere in their home.
If you were on the wrong side of the law in court you could expect to be identified in the Chron. If you were fundraising in your community for a good cause you could expect to be supported by them. And you could expect to find out news from the families of long-lost friends, neighbours or relatives in the births, deaths and marriages pages.
In recent years the Chronicle had also been a positive ambassador for Oldham as a place.
It backed us as a council when we showed ambition, but it was also ready to give us very public criticism when we deserved it. We may have squirmed and fumed at the time, but that is the scrutiny that comes with local democracy and it is a deal that works.
I sincerely hope a ‘Phoenix Chronicle’ may yet rise from the ashes, albeit likely in a weekly or bi-weekly form, and we will do anything we can to assist and encourage that to happen.
Oldham as a town needs a newspaper so we will be keeping a keen eye on developments: not least because it’s also vital that other elements of the old Chronicle brand and products are not lost.
The Pride in Oldham awards, for example, was a fantastic community event that highlighted the incredible contributions of ordinary people in a way that nothing else could.
And let’s not forget the importance of the newspaper’s archive too. Thousands of plates, negatives and digital content are all there on Union Street telling the story of our town and they simply must not be lost. I know people are working hard behind the scenes to ensure it can be preserved and enjoyed for generations to come.
Moving onto brighter news this week, I was delighted to open the EPIC Talks at the Your Oldham Festival in the Old Town Hall on Monday. It was inspiring to see important issues like inclusive growth and social contracts being discussed here in the heart of our town.
There’s still chance to catch some fantastic events across the borough until Saturday, so please visit our website here and book your free place.
On Saturday our exciting Oldham LIVE event will be taking place offering fun for all the family from Noon followed by established music artists from 6pm onwards.
We’ve now updated our webpage with more detailed information – including site maps and FAQs – so please give it a visit here and support us.
This is a pilot event designed to show that Oldham has an appetite for and can deliver top-quality events that re-establish it as a destination.
Parliament Square is the place to be this Saturday – and it’s all completely free. Please come along, spread the word with your friends and neighbours, and help us to make it a day to remember.