Happy 160th birthday Watford Observer! It is a cause for celebration as few sidestep the cull of modern life, yet, against the odds, some local and regional newspaper such as the WO have survived, if not thrived.

The printed press is, sadly, and monstrously, dying a death of a thousand cuts. With circulation figures for this one paper down by a quarter in the last 15 years, outlets have to shift their focus as they scrabble to put food on their ever shrinking table.

As a rapidly approaching semi antique, I have told kids under my day job charge as to how I would spend my downtime pre tech: Much to their chagrin, I eagerly explain how I would furnish myself with that day’s copy of the Mirror, the Sun or anything else that had been left on a train or bus and settle down for some bacon, egg and chips in a low rent eatery such as Jenny’s. Reading the copy, daily, cover to cover, gave me a general knowledge that has held me in fine fettle in pub quizzes the length and breadth of the country. I read to entertain, be informed and for pleasure, and it instilled a passion in me to replicate some such writings through this medium, although I concur I cannot hold a candle to proper journo’s who honed their talents during my formative years.

Now, with competition seeping from every pore, be it online content, or numerous vanity and corporate news concerns, to keep your head above the water really is quite a thing, and the challenges of longevity should not be understated. Some 160 years after the son of a local bookbinder, Alexander Peacock, set up the WO in the midst of the American civil war, as the battle of Gettysburg raged and Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation, it is still here informing the good folk of Watford and their neighbours as to what’s occurring in their corner of the world.

As a source of local news, it has outlived the Suffragettes, the Queen’s birth and death, two World Wars, one World Cup win and the reign of Queen Victoria. And yet today, along with numerous other local titles, it struggles to face down the ferocious attack from watered down online news outlets, existing as a punchbag for social media ‘observers’ whose first port of call is to dole out criticism whilst not heralding the work and importance of legitimate news outlets.

So why is the printed press so important? Newspapers have a unique position, and responsibility, due to their ‘visibility’. There are strict guidelines to adhere to and, bar the odd renegade (usually the nationals: see the dreadful phone hacking scandal), they make a rather good fist of it. They have, and continue to, walk a tightrope with every word carefully manicured so as not to open up the litigation floodgates.

Then compare that to online pretenders: Hiding behind a cloak of invisibility. The internet is uncontrollable. You can write with impunity and scuttle behind a fake profile.

Such ‘news’ outlets are not controlled, or policed, and lies become the truth become fact. There will be no litigation and the effects of such renegade news reporting has resulted in death by those wronged by stories written with spite in mind and vengeance in heart.

So as I celebrate 160 years with a port (not really, but it fits with the 1863 narrative), I hope that you can spread the word that your purchase counts, as, without folk like you, and the data bears out a rapidly ageing readership of printed press, newspapers will, within the next half century be a relic of the past. You are the last line of defence to save them joining the list of heroes to zeros including VHS, Woolworths and other nice things we no longer get to play with. It is simple: Use it or lose it and make the purchase of your local newspaper a vice. In the words of Lincoln: ‘it has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues’ and I for one will raise a portly toast to that…

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher from London Colney