The change complements a refreshing of some of JPI's other north-east titles. The Berwick Advertiser and the Morpeth Herald have updated their mastheads to make more use of white space, and are using Abril Display in a larger point than before for the front page main story, in part following the example of JPI's principal Northumberland title, the Alnwick-centred Northumberland Gazette. As from 22 April 2021 the Morpeth Herald abandoned the subtitle 'incorporating the Ponteland Observer' and seems now to be concentrating on Morpeth town stories, an understandable strategy in rebuilding the title after the depredations of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Ponteland Observer subtitle had been carried for thirty-five years, nearly twelve times longer than the lifespan of the Ponteland Observer as a newspaper.
Most JPI papers carry a variant of the strapline 'Trusted News Since [foundation date]' and the News Post Leader appeals to origins in 1874. The dates advertise deep roots in the communities served, and the relaunched paper is a model community newspaper for straitened times. Leaving aside the eight pages of puzzles which seem ubiquitous nowadays, there are specific business and schools news sections as well as photo pages and an enhanced sports section anchored by a new column from football journalist Jordan Cronin, covering local non-league team Blyth Spartans as well as Newcastle United 'from a Northumberland perspective'. Cronin's style is accessible even for those not particularly engaged by football and has evident applications for the digital wars where JPI, Reach and Newsquest all have offerings in North-East England increasingly focused on the same wider regional market rather than on the coverage areas of their newspapers.
The News Post Leader's front page follows several of its sister titles in going for a large lead picture as a hook, pointing to a story on the inside pages. In this case the headline serves as a greeting to readers from the new-look paper, 'We're Ready, Over to You!' in bold Tablet Gothic, as well as representing BritishVolt's anticipation of the go-ahead from Northumberland County Council for their '£2.6bn gigaplant' making batteries for electric cars. The site pictured is picturesquely bare - an eroding concrete floor framed by encroaching foliage, sky and distant green-tinged hills. Elsewhere the page promotes a competition to win a meal for four at the Commissioners' Quay Inn - whose owners expansion is covered within - the school news section - with children playing pirates on a purpose-built ship play frame - and Jordan Cronin's column. Editor Paul Larkin introduces the new paper on page 13, connecting the arrival of BritishVolt to a new era for the area's economy, and explaining the change from freesheet to paid-for title as a result of 'changing social habits and reader demands' and the opportunity a move to newsstands gives to invest in and improve the title's content.
Paul Larkin says that the News Post Leader has been distributed free 'in recent years', but it seems to have been a freesheet for most of the last four decades. He also mentions that the paper is affectionately known locally as 'the Leader'. This is a clue to the News Post Leader's convoluted origins, to which the 1874 foundation date doesn't do justice. The Leader was a freesheet launched in the late 1970s, which covered south-east Northumberland. The paper's antiquity lies in the first part of its title.
The revised paper prospered. By 14 May 1881 the entire paper was being printed in Blyth by William Alder, who was advertising enhanced printing facilties in his office in Ridley Street. A 'Lokil letter' was a regular feature in this period, commenting on local affairs in the Pitmatic dialect. Alder died on 10 August 1883, aged fifty-four. The paper included an elegy to his friend by the poet Matthew Tate. William was succeeded by his brother Cuthbert Gibson Alder, who took on William Watts Smith as a partner. Following Alder's retirement in 1889 Smith and Lancelot Watson continued in business as Alder & Co., while a new company, led by Smith as secretary but with a widder shareholding, was formed to own the News.
C.P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian would later emphasise the moral role of the regional newspaper in its community, and the Blyth Weekly News was viewed as a conduit for good works. A donor, John Thompson of Blyth, bestowed £30 on the directors of the Blyth Weekly News Company in 1889 to spend on the education of twelve boys for two years within Cowpen School Board district. The company passed the responsibility of choosing the Blyth Weekly News scholars on to readers, who could collect coupons between August and Christmas in order to maximise their chances of nominating their preferred children. The scheme continued in 1890, by which time it was opened to girls as well as boys, the places being reduced to six.
The News Post had competition in Ashington from the early 1930s in the form of the Ashington Advertiser, owned by a local printer much as the original News had been, and indeed as another neighbouring paper the Morpeth Herald remained until 1983. The Advertiser was bought by Northern Press and merged with the News Post from 27 March 1969. For the following five years the Ashington paper was called the Advertiser and Post, the remaining editions remaining the Blyth News. The News Post title was revived in 1974 with geographical labelling in masthead straplines.
Free newspapers were one of the growth areas of the 1970s. Northern Press launched The Leader no later than 1979. Its name was perhaps drawn from company history - the Northern Weekly Leader, founded in 1884 by editor James Annand, brother of the company's managing director Robert Cumming Annand, blazed a trail for north-east Liberalism at the close of the nineteenth century - but the purpose of the Leader, like many other free papers, was to sell advertising at volume and get it into homes which might not otherwise see a local paper. This trend encouraged proprietors to shut down some paid-for weeklies even if they seemed to be performing fairly creditably.
|As reproduced in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne, 29 June 1982 |
Somewhere between the announcement of the closure of the News Post and the event itself, the decision was taken to preserve the old paper's name in the expanded Leader. Thus on 4 August 1982 the News Post Leader dropped through letterboxes for the first time, and would remain a free paper for the next thirty-eight years and eight months. Its editorial base was in Whitley Bay for much of its history. Northern Press was sold by Westminster Press in March 1986 to John Barrons and Peter Fowler. In turn, Northern Press was acquired by Portsmouth and Sunderland Newspapers in June 1991, who merged it with their subsidiary Sunderland and Hartlepool Publishing and Printing to create Northeast Press.
The new News Post Leader's appeal to the arrival of BritishVolt as the renewal of industry and employment in the area echoes the old News Post's projection of communities drawn together by coal and the sea. It is impossible not to wish it and the area well.
Sources for this post include several editions of the Blyth News Ashington Post and its predecessors held on the British Newspaper Archive, reports on the fate of Northern Press and its newspapers in The Journal and the Evening Chronicle, both of Newcastle upon Tyne, also via the British Newspaper Archive, Metal Type's post on the centenary of the Shields Gazette, and Maurice Milne's Newspapers of Northumberland and Durham (Newcastle: Frank Graham, 1969).