A review of the Black Country Bugle by Steve Dyson, former editor of the Birmingham Mail, for holdthefrontpage.co.uk
When David Montgomery first perused the mini-empire he’d taken on with Local World, he must have been inspired by the Black Country Bugle.
This is a very old-fashioned newspaper, serving an extremely traditional marketplace, and yet the majority of the content on inside pages is created from submitted copy and pictures.
Yes, that’s UGC to me and you – user-generated content – although that term’s not used in communications with the paper’s elderly readers, who provide a wealth of local history stories and archive pictures.
On Thursday 9 January 2014, the splash and second lead were staff-written, although even they were based on local or family history: the latest plans to save the Dudley Hippodrome, and a woman following in her mum’s footsteps as a zookeeper.
But once inside the paper, there were some great stories which simply came from old readers wanting to share their memories. These included:
•‘Our leg of pork was so big it had to be cooked in Hadley’s Bakery ovens’ at the top of page two, a fine tale from 88-year-old Mary Hackett, of Rowley Regis;
•‘I was 7 and it was first Christmas without Dad’ leading page two, a heart-rending reminiscence from 80-year-old Frank Nicklin, of Kingswinford;
•‘Christmas Eve with Uncle Jack made me look to future’ leading page three, childhood memoirs from Alan Jones, of Halesowen;
•‘I had to pack the flying controls on Handley Page’ leading page six, a recollection from 1920s airplane factory worker Mr P. L. Downes, of Wednesfield; and
•‘Anyone remember the Dudley Roller Rink?’ leading page eight, a colourful appeal by a reader trying to make sense of her ageing mother’s ramblings.
The Bugle’s story selection, design and writing quality is expertly overseen by experienced editor John Butterworth MBE, the former Shrewsbury Chronicle editor, who Local World cleverly brought back into the industry last April.
The paper’s contact panel on page two indicates that Butterworth has three journalists assisting him, but even staff copy is based on interviews with nostalgic readers, such as:
•‘Mom’s kindness to a German prisoner of war far from home’ leading page 13;
•‘The happiest days of your life: photographs take us back to grammar school in the 1950s’ leading page 17;
•‘Old Black Country adverts found on a wall down under’ leading page 19; and
•‘1930s usherettes up on the roof’ leading page 23.
And I really liked the way reporters gently talk to their readers, who they know might not be technically savvy, like in this blob paragraph inviting interaction on page 18: “For those unable to access the internet, please forward your enquiry to Bugle House and we will send your details directly to Paul Robinson.”
That said, for silver-surfers there’s also a website, Facebook and Pinterest pages, and the @BCBugle Twitter account, the latter in its early days with 636 followers when I last checked.
On 9 January, there were 80-plus stories and around 70 archive pictures in the 32-page Bugle, which because of the length, detail and unique style of the content was pretty good value at 60p a copy.
I couldn’t find an up-to-date print sales figure, although it was said to be selling more than 11,000 copies per issue in March 2013.
The unusual title was founded in 1972, and was acquired by Staffordshire Newspapers, once part of Iliffe, now Local World, from Scottish Radio Holdings in the mid-2000s.
Butterworth took over from Rob Taylor who had worked for 33 years at the title founded by his father, Harry, in 1972.
As he left, Taylor said: “The Bugle has been described as unique and encyclopaedic in its content, and that is how I am pleased to leave it now, a much respected publication at the heart of our region.”
It’s pleasing to note that the popular readers’ content Taylor was proud of has been maintained in quality, with modern developments only adding to the Cradley Heath-based title’s continuing appeal.