Local newspapers remind us of the importance of a place we call home

What would George M Tully think if he were to step inside a modern newsroom?

     Read all about it: Michael Harding, Christina McHugh and Patsy McGarry focus on local newspapers. Photograph: Gerard O’Loughlin

Read all about it: Michael Harding, Christina McHugh and Patsy McGarry focus on local newspapers. Photograph: Gerard O’Loughlin

 

One hundred and sixty years ago on April 30th, 1859 the Roscommon Herald first hit the streets.

In the very first edition of the Roscommon Herald Proprietor George M Tully told his readers that the aim of the newspaper would be: “To elevate the tone of public feeling, to speak out at all times The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth, without reference to party considerations and thus furnish a faithful record on which the statesman or historian may rely – to do this is the task to which as a public journalist, we shall apply ourselves with zeal and untiring energy.”

One hundred and sixty years later we remain true to this ethos. The world around us has changed immeasurably but the guiding principles remain the same.

“As journalists, we shall never shrink from the painful and perilous task of marking with public censure all acts of local oppression, which come legitimately within the sphere of our duty,” said George Tully back in 1859.

What would George Tully think today if he were to step inside a modern newsroom? Could he comprehend the monumental change in working practices? The shifts in the news we read, and the way, we read it?

Everything has changed, changed utterly since George M Tully put his first edition to the press, but one thing remains the same – the reason local newspapers like the Roscommon Herald are still standing strong – they are embedded in their local communities.

George Tully’s son, Jasper, took over the running of the paper upon the death of his mother, Honoria. She had taken over the running of the paper on the death of her husband at a young age.

Try Hell

Jasper Tully married Mary Ellen Monson, whose family owned the Royal Hotel in Boyle, but their marriage was not a happy one and they lived apart for many years.

While a reconciliation did take place, the story goes that after his wife’s death, Tully used to readdress letters with the words, “Not known at this address – try Hell”.

In his book, The Voice of the Provinces – The Regional Press in Revolutionary Ireland, 1914-1921, author Christopher Doughan noted: “Jasper Tully was never one to have any reluctance in denigrating individuals, but the contemptuous dismissal of entire countries or religions was quite a different matter. This most unappealing attribute was clearly evident upon the outbreak of war in 1914 when the Roscommon Herald editorial declared that “Servia (Serbia) is one of the most contemptible nations on God’s earth”.

Doughan concludes, “Frequently prone to personal animosities and given to high prejudicial views, Tully was unarguably one of the most colourful characters in the ranks of the Irish provincial press in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries”.

Mark Twain

Fast-forward over 100 years and many will claim that local newspapers are in fact the dinosaurs of the modern world and that falling readership figures have signalled our demise. Yes, newspapers have changed and will continue to do so, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours of our demise are greatly exaggerated.

Even in this age of social media dominance, readers still want to feel connected, to know what is going on around them and for someone be an advocate for their area. This was, is and will continue to be the role of local newspapers.

Recently the Roscommon Herald and its owners The Irish Times held an event at St Nathy’s College in Ballaghaderreen featuring a conversation with The Irish Times Religious Affairs Correspondent Patsy McGarry and The Irish Times columnist Michael Harding.

The evening was about celebrating all that is good about local journalism. Patsy and Michael share a passion for rural life, a passion for the communities they grew up in and a passion for telling stories about the characters that have shaped this lives. And this is where local newspapers such as the Roscommon Herald form part of that circle.

Local newspapers reflect the communities we all live in – their interests, concerns and passions. They touch our lives and remind us of the importance of the place we all call home. Christina McHugh is Editor of the Roscommon Herald

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