Big recognition for a little newsroom in Fermanagh

Enniskillen-based newspaper the ‘Impartial Reporter’ has been around since 1825, and was in one family’s hands for 181 years. It was recently named the UK’s best weekly paper. What sets it apart?

Tue, May 13, 2014, 01:00

The name Impartial Reporter may have originated in 1825, but it could not be more relevant today. It is a standard to which most newspapers aspire. The Enniskillen-based title was recently named the best UK weekly newspaper at the British Press Awards, a prestigious honour for a small regional paper.

“There were 500 guests at the reception in the Hilton Hotel in London,” says editor Sarah Saunderson, who has worked at the paper since 1994, adding that “only about 50 of them were women.” She and her 23 colleagues are still amazed to have come top of their category, which had the most entrants of all.

Leaf through recent editions of the newspaper and you will find a striking mix. There’s a story about a parishioner at Magheracross Church whose knitted nativity figures became an unexpected Facebook hit for the parish website; an ongoing series called First World War History in 12 Objects; a story headlined “Man found lying on ground with trousers around ankles and trying to eat a burger”; a report about three sites in Co Fermanagh where fracking has taken place; and a front-page story, “Nurses attacked, punched and hair pulled by double amputee”, about a patient who assaulted three nurses who were trying to restrain him from using a fire extinguisher.

Breaking the G8 summit
The Reporter was the first media outlet to break the news that last year’s G8 summit was coming to Fermanagh. In June, it ran a G8 special, much of the edition written by Rodney Edwards, the paper’s only reporter to be given accreditation for the summit at Lough Erne Resort.

Edwards has been at the Reporter for five years. He recently hosted a number of live Twitter question-and-answer sessions between readers and invited guests. The most high-profile was with Gerry Adams, in March. “We did it at his constituency office in Drogheda,” says Edwards. The #AskAdams hashtag got the paper trending on Twitter, and more than 5,500 questions were sent in the allocated hour.

Among the questions put to Adams was: “Why would you defend all the killings by the IRA as legitimate? How do you wash all that blood off your hands?” He replied, “IRA cessation 20 years old. IRA has gone away. Look to the future, build the peace.”

Another was, “When did you finally realise many people in the south of Ireland don’t want a united Ireland?” And the reply: “A united Ireland makes sense. Why do we need others to govern us? Why not do that ourselves?”

He was also asked, “Will you be sending Peter Robinson a farewell card if he decides to resign?” He answered that “Peter resigning will not solve anything. Issues will not go away – they need tackled.”

Remembrance Sunday bombing
The newspaper offices are only two minutes from the town’s war memorial. On Remembrance Sunday 1987, staff found themselves in the middle of a terrible story that was soon being carried around the world after an IRA bomb went off, killing 12 people and injuring many more.

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