diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 23, 2006

Do you have a local free newspaper? One that keeps you in touch with what's going on round your way? A weekly freesheet poked through your letterbox packed with stabbings, golden weddings and lost dogs? Because I don't any more, and I sort of miss it.
"A Watford band has successfully beaten off competition from 22 other ensembles to reach the finals of the British National Brass Band Championships. The group's rendition of Anglian Dances by Alan Fernie was good enough to place them fourth over all in the regional heat on Sunday."
For years, a free newspaper was a regular part of my life. If planning permission was sought for a lean-to shed down my road, I knew about it. If an old schoolmate hit fifty runs in a weekend league cricket match, I knew about it. If roadworks at a nearby mini-roundabout threatened major traffic congestion, I knew about it. The local paper was a window on my immediate environment, keeping me in touch with what my neighbours were up to. Even if it was only a coffee morning or an unmuzzled dog on the rampage, it was better than hearing nothing. And now I live in London I have nothing. And I think I'm missing out.
"An elderly woman had a narrow escape today after an accident in Stowmarket ended up with one car on top of another. Three fire crews were sent to Ipswich Street near the Regal Cinema after reports that an elderly person was trapped following an accident at 9.50am. An ambulance crew was also at the scene, but the woman did not need hospital treatment and was taken home."
I may live in a densely populated patch of the largest city in Western Europe, but nobody seems to think that my letterbox merits a local freesheet. No thick supplement of houses for sale or rent ever wings my way. Heartbreaking local crime stories pass me by. Local council initiatives go unannounced. There's a captive audience of hundreds of thousands of eager citizens round my way, but if I want a local paper I have to pay for it. I could buy the East London Advertiser and Tower Hamlets Recorder every week (I'm discounting the Evening Standard because that only feels local if you live in Putney or Notting Hill), but I was brought up on free local news and somehow paying for my weekly mugging update feels wrong.
"Officers have revealed that drunks and drug-takers in Bethnal Green's Museum Gardens have become such a problem they have now applied for an alcohol exclusion zone. Kids coming out of the Museum of Childhood have been terrified by people falling over and urinating into bushes, police told residents at a neighbourhood forum."
Was it the internet that killed off the local free paper? I can now read about joyriders on the A13 online. I can find local houses for sale online. I can discover which dodgy student band is playing in the pub down the road online. I have no need to wait until Friday evening for a hastily-assembled wad of newsprint to be thrust into my letterbox, because I can find out what's going on right here right now via my computer. Except that I can't usually be bothered to look. The great joy of the local freesheet was that it reported on the commonplace and the mundane whether I wanted to hear it or not. And now I'm not hearing anything. Am I the only person living under this unfair local information embargo, or is free-paper-lessness now a nationwide phenomenon?

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