Inside The Oldham Times’ First Edition

East of the M60 looks at the first edition of The Oldham Times, the Lancashire town’s newest weekly title

On the 31 August, it was the end of an era as the Oldham Evening Chronicle printed its last edition. Its parent company, Hirst, Kidd, and Rennie, went into receivership. As well as its weekday daily newspaper, they also printed stationery. Their office on Rhodes Bank was also a bookshop and a booking office for the newspaper’s excursions.

Since its first edition was printed in 1849, it had been independently owned. The Hirsts and the Platts bankrolled the title in its early years. It also fought off competition from an earlier newspaper. After the Platts ceased to subsidise the Chronicle in the mid-1850s, they launched their title in 1860: The Oldham Times.

The original version of The Oldham Times aimed to be a Liberal organ. Oldham’s answer to The Manchester Guardian. Instead, the Platts’ new title caused a split in the local Liberal party. Within a few months it folded, and the Oldham Evening Chronicle was Oldham’s preeminent daily paper till the last month.

In the fortnight since its demise, there had been a battle for the hearts and the minds of Oldhamers, seeking a dead tree based news source. Firstly, there is talk of Revolution 96.2 FM hoping to revive the Oldham Evening Chronicle. The Manchester Evening News, whose parent company Trinity Mirror, had an Oldham edition of The Advertiser till 2015, has introduced an Oldham Edition of the MEN.

On Thursday, two new weekly titles were launched in Oldham. One is the Oldham Reporter, brought to you by the Quest Media Group. In 2012, they saved the Reporter and Chronicle Newspapers‘ titles [Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle] from extinction. If you are familiar with the two titles, there may be some similarities in editorial style. (Once we receive an edition of the Oldham Reporter, East of the M60 shall give it a more thorough review).

The most high profile launch was that of The Oldham Times. On Thursday, canvassers stood outside newsagents’ shops in the centre of Oldham (and at Hydes’ Newsagent stall in Tommyfield Market Hall). Free chocolate bars were available for purchasers.

The Oldham Times (2017 version)

If you nip over to Bury or Bolton, you will find that The Oldham Times is published by the same people as the Bury Times and The Bolton News weekly titles. The three titles are owned by Newsquest, who are a subsidiary of Gannett. Gannett is an American company, whose flagship title is USA Today. With some former Chronicle journalists, they aim to double the Chron’s last circulation figures.

News

For their first edition, they opened with an exclusive story by Gillian Potts. With the headline ‘We Can’t Move On’, it focuses on a compensation claim made by the killer of Lee Rigby. Since Lee Rigby’s death in May 2013, it has been an emotive issue for some people within Oldham and Middleton. And among some groups who have tried to make political capital out of his death. In this story, Lee Rigby’s father, Phil McClure, has attacked the waste of taxpayers’ money in the killer’s appeal.

More community orientated news stories include a family fun day at Oldham Community Fire Station on Lees Road. With half a dozen pictures of youngsters enjoying themselves, it has the headline ‘Blazing A Trail!‘. There is also news of Royton’s library moving to the town hall, and the possibility of commercial use for the present building. A short piece on the arrival of an ABBA tribute act in Shaw (the Playhouse 2 theatre) has the headline ‘Gimme an Abba Night‘.

The proposed move of Royton library isn’t the only Oldham Council based story. Three quarters of page 13 looks at the future of Oldham town centre. This being a masterplan which includes a new civic centre, on the former Oldham Sports Centre site. Plus a new Tommyfield Market Hall with a 600 space multi-storey car park.

The aforementioned stories are a taster of what’s in the new paper, but they are enough to give you a feel for the tone of subsequent editions. There are plenty of local news stories to read and keep you engaged. If The Oldham Times continues to maintain the standard of its first edition, it could be onto a winner.

Features

Whereas the news stories are a strong point of this title, some economies are made with the Weekend pull-out. The same supplement is issued with Newsquest’s other titles throughout the North West of England. Where it differs from, for example the Bury Times, are the local advertisers. On the other hand, it is handy if you fancy watching a play at the Bolton Octagon as well as the Oldham Coliseum.

Classified Ads

For the first edition, the advertisements are easy to pick out. At the moment there is only one page, though like the Family Announcements page opposite (page 50), this will expand in future editions.

There is only one disappointing part of The Oldham Times‘ classified section. It is the Situations Vacant part on page 52. Instead of seeing advertisements from each company, we see, what is in effect, a full page ad for nw1jobs.com. There are sixteen jobs stated; jobseekers are expected to visit the NW1Jobs website, which discriminates against readers without internet access. Or computer literacy skills.

Sport

Besides the Roughyeds and the Latics, Oldham has a wealth of sports clubs inside its boundaries. So far the sports pages are a work in progress, focusing on the town’s underachieving oval and spherical ball sports teams. Its Sports Editor, Matthew Rogers, was formerly a sub-editor for the Oldham Evening Chronicle.

He says in his first column: “as the paper grows… it is my intention to include all the latest news and match reports from the amateur scene across the borough”. In other words, there are plans to carry match reports of semi-professional teams in and around Oldham, such as Chadderton FC, Oldham St. Annes RLFC, and Springhead FC.

Of the match reports in The Oldham Times‘ first edition, both were detailed with some good photography in Latics’ report. All the usual match statistics are added in an easy to read to form.

Design

On the odd occasions I had purchased the Oldham Evening Chronicle, its conservative yet reader friendly layout had appealed to me. I have found the present layout of the Manchester Evening News and the Tameside Reporter a bit too chaotic for sustained reading. I am happy to find that The Oldham Times has an accessible layout, which is good for sustained reading. Short stories do not distract the reader from bigger stories too much. It is easy to get to the short stories too, which make best use of right hand columns.

The Sports section of the newspaper has, in my view, the most effective layout. Especially with the juxtaposition of photographs in the Oldham Athletic v. Shrewsbury Town match report. The statistics panel makes good use of the right hand column. Even the use of the bottom part for reminding readers of Latics’ next game.

Conclusion

On the strength of its first edition, The Oldham Times has had a good start. It ticks all the right boxes design wise and has steady foundations for subsequent issues. We hope the momentum remains a month or two after this week’s issue.

The Oldham Times not only fills a gap left over from the Chron. Since the Oldham Advertiser was absorbed by the Manchester Weekly News juggernaut, it fills two gaps. And it does so very well. With the arrival of the Oldham Reporter the same week, who’d have thought that after the Chron’s and Advertiser’s demise there would be two new titles? On the same week? It is worth noting that before 2015, Oldhamers had three local papers: as well as the Oldham Evening Chronicle and the Oldham Advertiser, there was also the Chronicle Weekend freesheet.

As for suggested improvements, I would say the Situations Vacant section of the classified pages should be top of their list. This, I assume, is due to how job hunting has become a more online activity. A business page or two focusing on local employers, SME businesses and/or job seeking tips would be a useful addition. Once Chadderton’s and Mossley’s match reports are added to the sports section, a near perfect weekly newspaper. A worthwhile addition for any Oldhamer’s weekly read.

We wish everyone at The Oldham Times the very best of luck, and hope the paper lasts a lot longer than 1860’s incarnation. With the Oldham Reporter and – possibly – a revived Oldham Evening Chronicle snapping at their heels, exciting and challenging times.

The Oldham Times is out every Thursday, priced 80p, and covers the whole of the Oldham Council boundary.

S.V., 23 September 2017.

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