This is us The past, present and future of the Newbury Weekly News by Sarah Bosley

Many things have changed since 1867 but one constant has been the Thursday publication of the Newbury Weekly News.

The newsroom may look very different now, with computers where pen and ink once ruled, but the reasons everyone comes into work each day remain the same. To be at the heart of the community and provide the most comprehensive coverage of current affairs across the district.

James Blacket and Thomas Wheildon Turner published the first issue of the Newbury Weekly News and West Berkshire Advertiser on Thursday, February 7, 1867.

It was produced on a hand-operated flat-bed press, capable of printing around 250 one-sided sheets an hour. Four pages, with extracts from the national press, were produced in London.

The front page did look drastically different from today’s paper and was dominated entirely by adverts. Some of the first adverts were taken up by Samuel Toomer and Joseph Hopson – names still synonymous with the town today. Now around 65% of the paper is given over to advertising and 35% editorial.

In the early days the paper was not designed in any specific way. News was typeset as it came in and the words arranged in columns – there appears to have been no thought of what it would all look like and there were no news pictures.

By 1869 James Blacket’s original press couldn’t keep up with the demands of the fast-growing paper and it moved to steam power. Around 2,000 sheets could now be produced per hour.

The first news picture came during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, when a ‘Seat of War’ map was published, while the first local news image came 15 years later and was of Newbury’s Water Bridge.

In 1893 the steam press was replaced by a gas-powered Wharfedale machine, which itself was then replaced in 1909 by a reel-fed electric Lancashire model. The report on this switch contained a photograph of the new machine room – one of the earliest news photos used in the paper.

There had been a change a few years earlier, in 1907, when the first Linotype machine arrived at the paper. Many of the traditional compositors, who had spent years learning to hand-set type feared it was the beginning of the end for them. That very first machine was still in use in 1971.

Another change to printing came in 1936 when Hugh and Ashley Turner – now in charge of the business – decided to buy the robot Cossar press, which was able to produce finished and folder copies in eight-page runs. But despite the financial outlay of this new press times were tough at the paper, it was the post-war depression years and although circulation was increasing, advertising was falling.

Alongside the press, another new joiner in the 1930s was the paper’s first sports reporter, Albert Williams.

During the war years of 1939-45 the NWN’s staff, like many other companies, was hugely depleted and employees nearing retirement age had to stay on to keep the paper going.

By the early 1950s things were changing at board level and the running of the paper was placed on a more formal corporate level.

Unionisation and pensions, as well as how to recruit printers when they were still a rarity, were issues to distract the management during this time. The board began to invest in property in a bid to attract staff.

In 1951 newsprint rationing came to an end and with-it advertising rates increased by 25% and the cover price went up from 2d to 3d.

By the end of the decade Newbury Weekly News Ltd was established, to separate the paper from the other administrative and property matters.

In July 1959, 22 printers walked out during a national strike and the wives of staff members were called in to help. Seven emergency editions were printed during that time, before the strike finally ended with an increase to the national minimum wage.

In 1961 a second unit was added to the Cossar press and more Linotype machines were brought in. The NWN was held up as a “model of modern local newspaper production”. There were now around 60 staff members, many with long family links to the paper.

In 1974 the Cossar press was finally superseded by the Goss. It had churned out 40 million copies and never missed a deadline.

The Goss could now produce nearly 20,000 copies an hour and colour was now possible; the days of hot-metal were over.

In 1982 the paper moved to new premises at Newspaper House, Faraday Road – the first issue produced there was the paper’s 6,000th edition.

The 80s were prosperous ones for the paper and the Goss press couldn’t keep up with demand. So in 1985 it was replaced by an eight-unit Solna. This was also the decade that The Newbury Advertiser, a Tuesday freesheet, was launched.

By 1989 the paper had reached 76 pages across three sections and a survey showed that 76% of adults in the district read the NWN regularly.

Out & About was also bought during this time and continues to this day. Another first for the paper came in January 1997 when Brien Beharrell was appointed group editor, the first and currently only, woman editor in the paper’s history.

Brien Beharrell - the NWN's first female editor

The following year, as demand for a full colour paper increased, the NWN invested heavily in the installation of the Goss web offset press.

Changing times

Giant leaps forward continued for the still family-run firm and 2005 was to be another momentous year for the paper. The NWN launched its new compact (tabloid) size, dropping from a broadsheet and it launched its website, newburytoday, to produce immediate, daily online content.

But it was unable to avoid the economic downturn which hit the country in 2007 and the years that have followed have been some of the toughest ever seen by newspapers, particularly local independents.

Newspapers faced incredibly tough choices and many have closed up and down the country.

Unfortunately Newbury was not immune to this and by the end of 2017 the board had made the very difficult decision to shut down the printing press. To service the huge capital investment in the press it was necessary for the printing operation to run 24-hours a day, five days a week, but the external printing contracts were no longer there.

The January 25, 2018 edition was the first not to be printed in Newbury since 1867 and the paper is now printed in Cambridge, by Iliffe News and Media.

The closure of the NWN press, along with other redundancies made at the same time, resulted in the loss of 28 jobs.

After the loss of the press, the large premises were no longer needed and at the beginning of 2019 the NWN moved offices, taking over a smaller unit just next door still in Faraday Road.

The former site, which was purpose built for the paper, is now in the process of being sold.

On May 1, 2019 the 152-year-old Newbury Weekly News was purchased by a joint venture (JV) company, Newbury News and Media Ltd, which has been formed by Yattendon-based Edward Iliffe and Peter Fowler.

The last 18 months has seen the paper invest its time heavily in social media, with the launch of its Instagram account and a consolidation of the offering it already had on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

It has also launched the very successful WhatsApp news alerts, including a new Thursday audio bulletin.

Last week also saw the introduction of a small fee to read some of the premium articles on newburytoday.

It is no secret that journalism is facing a tough time, with readers demanding their news in different and more immediate ways.

Times have changed and the paper has always changed with them; that’s just what it is having to do now and we hope you can appreciate that.

We are still your Newbury Weekly News and always will be.

A letter from the Editor

"This week marks a significant transition for Newburytoday as we introduce a small fee for some premium articles.

"It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in Newburytoday and the Newbury Weekly News, one that will strengthen our ability to continue to provide high-quality journalism to readers across our area on any platform.

"The Newbury Weekly News is independent and believes passionately in supporting the community and holding those in power to account. We want to continue serving you for many years to come.

"However, it is no secret that the journalism industry faces serious challenges.

"Many of our traditional sources of income have shrunk dramatically in recent years, with the likes of Google and Facebook hoovering up most of the advertising revenue while spending nothing on journalism.

"Our website allows us to reach more people than ever before, but the simple truth is giving our stories away for free online is no longer a sustainable business model.

"We know many people have become accustomed to receiving news online for free, but our journalism costs money to produce.

"That is why today we are asking you to pay a small fee – 20p – to read some of our premium articles.

"We are introducing a secure system called Axate, which allows you to top up your virtual wallet to read those selected articles.

"After you have paid for one article, all of our content will be free to read for the day.

"You can also use your wallet to read articles on other participating websites, including the Maidenhead Advertiser, Windsor and Eton Express, Slough Express and The Cricketer.

"Many of our articles, including breaking news and crime updates, will still be free to read.

"We know this move will not be popular with everyone and that some people will not be prepared to pay. However, those who do will know they are helping to support the future of independent journalism in West Berkshire."

Andy Murrill, Editor

Some of the memories

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