Inside Story: Local voices for local people

Some national names are not only proud of their roots, they also write a column for their local paper. Here they explain why - and how - they do it


Double Olympic gold medallist

Kent and Sussex Courier

Double Olympic gold medallist
Kent and Sussex Courier

"I enjoy keeping local people up to date with what I am doing, wherever I am in the world. After my growing up in Hildenborough, Kent, a lot of them have seen me running through the streets for many years. They have all followed my career since it began and I am truly grateful for all their support. Kent and Sussex Courier is a great way to keep in touch."

Giles Broadbent, editor of the Kent and Sussex Courier, on Kelly Holmes

"Kelly started writing for us long before she became super-famous. Our relationship with her paid dividends during the Olympic spell, as we were getting exclusive insights into the state of her mind; as a result, our circulation soared. In terms of the benefit to the newspaper and our readership, we're getting material from her that she may not be giving to anyone else, and she's keeping in touch with her family and friends. She's committed to us and she's very keen on maintaining those links with the community, and doing so through the local paper means she gets everyone in one scoop."

Former West Yorkshire Chief Constable and drugs tsar
Huddersfield Examiner

"I was born in this area and it's our local paper; it's a matter of giving something back and commenting on national issues as they affect the locality. I write about every contentious issue you can write about - clearly, social policy is high on the agenda but I do put humorous things in and things about my family and local matters. For me it's been a discipline to do it every week, and it's good to express yourself in a piece of work where you can think: "Yeah, I'm happy with that." What I don't want to do is regurgitate what has been said by other columnists."

Roy Wright, editor of the Huddersfield Examiner, on Keith Hellawell

"Keith is very well known and I am delighted to have someone of his stature writing for a newspaper of our size every week. His column is fairly broad; it's reasonably heavyweight but it does have its lighter touches. He's very visible around the town and he's a big community figure - kind of the old no-nonsense bobby. If you warm him up on the subject of Mr Blair, he'll start rattling off and people read him - whether they like him or not - just to see what he says."

Former Doctor Who
Bucks Free Press

"I've lived in the area for 20 years and I was quite high-profile when I started the column 10 years ago. I'm a man of many opinions and few opportunities to air them; it was an opportunity to bang on about things which I've seized with both hands and relished. I get more feedback around and about Wycombe for my articles than I do for my theatre and television work; and locally I am known as Colin Baker the Bucks Free Press columnist, which is quite nice. I like writing - it uses a different part of the brain to acting - but I get very cross with sub-editors who tinker."

Sharon Walter, deputy editor of the Bucks Free Press, on Colin Baker

"He brings a personality to the paper and that's what you want in the column. When we had the new Doctor Who series it was a bonus having him in the paper. We did a story on him and he wrote his column on it that week. There are a lot of people under 30 who wouldn't have known him from Doctor Who who now know him from the paper. He lives here and takes a keen interest in the town, but he tends to write about his own experiences, which aren't necessarily related to the town. It's added value and definitely gives people another reason to pick up the paper."

Former Wales and British Lions rugby captain
Wales Evening Post

"I've lived here all my life and, hopefully, I understand the feelings of the rugby supporters or any reader. This community has always been my area and it's lovely writing about the local teams. What I've tried to be all my life in journalism is to be fairly honest with the public; otherwise, you get found out, and you can't just write for the sake of being a nice chap all the time. The last thing I want to do is hammer players, but I am fairly upfront. People tell me very quickly if they don't agree, but it's generally in good humour. The way I see it is that I may have been a British Lion and the guy down the road may have only played for a local team, but he's got his views and the right to write in and tell me about it."

Spencer Feeney, editor of the South Wales Evening Post, on Phil Bennett

"Phil's been writing for the best part of 20 years, since he finished as a player. He's a rugby legend and South Wales is a place where rugby is not just a game but a complete obsession. Lots of our circulation area is the traditional heartland of Welsh club rugby and Phil very much concentrates on the Ospreys and the Scarlets and the Welsh national team."

Astronomer, writer and broadcaster
Chichester Observer

"We have our big planetarium here, which is run with no government help, and therefore it's a very important astronomical centre. I write a monthly astronomical column and I'm very happy to do it. It's a very good local paper and it's all Keith's doing. I get quite a lot of feedback - all positive, of course!"

Keith Newbury, editor of the Chichester Observer, on Patrick Moore

"Every penny we pay Patrick goes directly to the South Downs Planetarium fund. He's well-known in the village, as he's lived there for almost 40 years. He writes every month and writes anything topical to do with astronomy; and the fact that it's Patrick ensures us a good audience. He has this way of writing about astronomy that makes it accessible to everyone. I would never dream of using a so-called celebrity columnist unless they had some connection with the area or with the newspaper, and it just so happens that we got someone as well known as Patrick willing to write for us. He is so much a part of the community and he's always told me how much he likes the Chichester Observer, so it just came together for all of us."

Writer and broadcaster
Western Mail

"I don't do that many 'Wales' stories because that's a bit patronising, but there have to be some references. Apart from that, I don't think it's overly Welsh. My role as a columnist is to provide something a bit different to what's in the rest of the paper. I tend to be a little whimsical, because if you've got five pages of death and destruction, you don't want to read another one. This week, I've written about the Mrs Robinson myth behind older women and younger men, and a little piece about Brad Pitt's really bad blond hair. It's supposed to be lighter, but if it were a really important story, I would never ignore that."

Alan Edmunds, editor of the Western Mail, on Lowri Turner

"We were looking for someone who had a strong Welsh connection and who was a really good writer with a high profile, and Lowri was keen to do it. She's fantastic: very popular with the readers and very funny. She's totally professional and on top of the news and able to comment on it in a way that gets a lot of reaction. She has free rein to write about whatever she fancies and she often talks about her own life, and those have been some of the best columns."

MP and former shadow Health Secretary
Archant Suffolk Weekly Newspapers

"It's the first time I've done anything in a regional paper. In terms of reaching my constituents, the regional media are a very important route. I think the people, certainly in Suffolk and probably generally outside London, pay attention to their regional media. I write about local issues. Sometimes there's a political dimension to them, but it's aimed at local rather than national issues. I have always enjoyed writing and it's interesting getting a response from people. Once you become a regular columnist, people regularly turn to you to see what you have to say."

Paul Couch, editor of the Archant Suffolk Weekly Newspapers, on Tim Yeo

"He's been writing every three weeks for three years. It's a kind of social commentary, and if we have to drop the column for a week, there's usually phone calls. Although our papers are free weeklies, they are more like paid-for papers, and the calibre of our columnists supports that. He's a popular columnist and people react strongly across the board to his column. We do try to stay away from politics if we can help it, as we don't want to give people the idea that we're a Conservative newspaper."

Creator of Brookside and Mersey TV
Liverpool Daily Post

"The programmes I make are all about social issues and commentary, and I saw it as a mini-extension of Brookside, and a way of getting into debates and getting people to think about other things. I try to pick up the national debate and look at how it impacts on the locality, things such as transport policy and the whole education debate. I don't think people see me as a journalist. They see me as that guy who does telly and writes a column."

Louise Douglas, features editor of the Liverpool Daily Post, on Phil Redmond

"Ninety per cent of the people in Liverpool know Phil, and he writes about local current affairs and gets a good response from readers. Sometimes he writes very political pieces, though never party political, but he always seems to hit a note with people. He talks a lot of common sense and he's a very good writer."

TV agony aunt
Newcastle Journal

"I've lived up here all my life but I've always worked from London. I'm very aware of a need to keep our region alive and not to let everything move away. If we don't try to keep alive the things that we have up here, I think they'll perish, so it was nice when I was offered the chance to express my opinions. My brief isn't to write about local issues - I write about whatever is making me cross. The nicest comment I've had from a reader was from a man who said: 'Since you've started writing that column, my blood pressure's gone down. When something annoys me, I think that I needn't get angry about it - Denise'll get angry about it on Tuesday.' "

Brian Aitken, editor of the Newcastle Journal, on Denise Robertson

"It always helps a regional paper if it can bring a national personality into the pages, someone who reflects the opinions of local people and touches on things they're interested in. Denise comments on a lot of different issues in a concise, clear way that ordinary people can understand. She often makes me think twice about something I thought I had a firm view on. She does that with the readers, too. In the North-East, where people have a sense of regional identity, they're more inclined to listen to one of their own."

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