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Amid the toughest of times, a hat-trick of top gongs for your paper at UK press awards

The New Journal wins 'campaign of the year' for helping to save Kentish Town City Farm

25 June, 2020

LOCAL newspapers are facing the toughest of all challenges, to not only survive the coronavirus crisis but to make sure that journalists are there to tell the story of the pandemic and help those who need support.

It hasn’t been easy but now is not to the time to take reporters off the field of play and we have pledged to fill a role our readers rightfully expect us. We may be distanced, but the New Journal, as so many organisations in Camden, remains united in the response to find a way through this unprecedented emergency.

On Friday, we found new encouragement when judges at the Regional Press Awards – essentially the industry’s “Oscars” – three times awarded prizes to our team. Run by the Society of Editors, the awards are the pinnacle in the local newspaper world and cover the entire United Kingdom.

To even be nominated places the New Journal and its stablemates in the same company as some of the big beasts of the industry, many with far larger budgets to play with.

Most local newspapers in the country are run by the same four or five conglomerates, with the New Journal – and our sister papers, the Islington Tribune and Westminster Extra – among only a handful of surviving independent titles.

The idea is not to search for a bumper profit, it’s just to ensure costs are covered in providing the area with a challenging, community newspaper.

We were also one of only a small handful of London titles to be nominated, perhaps a sign which supports the concern that some areas of the capital are no longer served by a meaningful voice.

With coronavirus restrictions in place, the awards’ organisers were forced to dispense with the annual gala event, but insisted it was vital that the event went ahead online to recognise special effort.

And as the tape played, the awards came raining in for our office.

First, campaign of the year: a gong here for the coverage which helped save the Kentish Town City Farm from a ruinous cuts programme. Generations of families have enjoyed using the farm in Cressfield Close – and we hope this may long continue.

Then, a special award for Dan Carrier, one of our longest-serving reporters who, in response to the pandemic, organised a food relief operation which has led to the delivery of thousands of meals.

The paper had decided at the very beginning of the outbreak that we could not simply write stories from behind desks. We had to offer our help. And then another laurel: the Islington Tribune named as the UK’s best free newspaper, no mean feat given the number of titles which now do not charge.

The word “freesheet” at one time was a pejorative, dare we say it, almost snobbish term, as if not asking readers to pay for accurate and helpful information was some sort of defect.

As the judges said as they an­n­ounced the winners, our papers show “that just because you are free, that doesn’t mean you are not a superb newspaper”. Our team, known even among national newspaper editors and reporters as one to watch, has won awards before but three on the same day was a special achievement.

As the judges said about the New Journal: “The enthusiasm shines through and the results speak for themselves. A truly great publication.”

Richard Osley, the New Journal’s deputy editor, said: “Like so many, we are facing the challenge of our lives and are not immune to the effects of the pandemic. We are not blind to a mountain of hurdles and obstacles that lie ahead. The future, we have seen, is unpre­dictable but these awards act as another spur to keep going.”

He added: “It may sound like a cliché, but it will always remain the case that the paper’s success is built on the support of its readers: both encouraging us and challenging us. One of the indicators of a local paper’s strength is its readers’ letters pages and each week we have four or five pages of their views. We’d like to thank them for their ongoing support.”

How the CNJ helped save the farm

THE successful campaign to save Kentish Town City Farm helped stop a raft of job losses, an eviction, and cuts to popular services that have always been cherished by the community, writes Tom Foot.

And it meant Shirley the Cow and Champion the horse were not moved away.

They remain solid favourites with the children. Along the way, the campaign won the support from a Hollywood actress and secured a £100,000 donation from a mystery businessman before the entire board of trustees, who had drawn up a plan of cuts, finally quit.

Our part in the story began when I got a call from a long-serving night watchman Terry Child, who had been served an eviction notice to leave his home on the site. He suggested I come up to the farm’s annual general meeting and we met in the Grafton Arms.

There the board’s wider plans became clearer, but staff began mobilising into a full-scale fight-back.

A former director drew up an alternative plan that would have stopped redundancies and services, but it was ignored. So much news-gathering is done online these days, but you really can’t beat catching a story sitting at the back of a public meeting. We had a story every week for around three months, including three front pages.

The Gone Girl actress Rosamund Pike saw the coverage and pitched in with a supportive statement. Her intervention caught the eye of a businessman who, while grasping the New Journal in his hand, rang-up the farm and offered to clear its deficit in full.

The lifeline £100,000 offer came on condition of strict anonymity and with only one string attached demand: the whole board quit. Eventually, after a bit more cattle-prodding, they did – almost a year ago to the day on June 22.

At a celebration on the farm a few weeks after, I was presented with a funny card, framed and with a £10 note inside it. We had suggested a week before the New Journal could also do with a “tenner” from a reader with some disposable cash if it was also to survive for generations to come.

I miss those regular calls from workers there – often way after the goats had gone to sleep. It was the staff that made it all happen. Scores of regional newspapers have shut down and the ones that haven’t are often staffed by reporters who do not have the time to follow up on stories, let alone run a campaign. Not the New Journal.

Despite a the slump in advertising revenue during the pandemic, we remain determined as ever to get behind the community when we’re needed.

That’s what’s been recognised by the judges this week. The farm’s new chairwoman Angela Woods said: “We’re all really really chuffed about the CNJ this week. It was such an amazing thing you guys did. It will go down in history. It shows the proper role of a local paper, unafraid and persistent.”


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