Just before Christmas we invited our readers to take part in a series of focus groups to discuss the Gazette & Herald.
We had three sessions in Devizes and Chippenham at which a good cross section of our readership told us, in no uncertain terms, what they loved and loathed about their favourite weekly newspaper.
There were a few things people didn’t like, or felt could be done better, and we have taken them on board as part of a relaunch next week.
The Gazette & Herald has been a part of Wiltshire life since 1816, when George Simpson set up a weekly publication in Salisbury.
He fled to Devizes to avoid a libel action and the paper has been at the heart of the county ever since.
Its key value then and now was reporting the news that mattered most to the people of the areas it served.
At no time in its history does it do that more thoroughly than it does now. The 24-hour news service on the Gazette’s website would have given old Mr S an ulcer.
I hope he would have approved of the many editionised pages for Devizes, Marlborough and Chippenham and north Wiltshire that give the paper a truly local feel in those towns.
The readers who came to the focus panels told us they love the fact the news is so local and there is so much of it. But, as I said earlier, there were some things they want to see more of, or done better.
Accordingly, from next Thursday, you’ll see some changes.
We will be introducing new sections to make it easier to navigate through the paper.
We’ll have an opinion section housing letters and guest columnists. The MPs’ columns will also move there. We will introduce a new family section with columnist Fiona Scott writing about parenting, health, education and consumer issues.
We will expand our theatre and arts coverage, increase our food pages and give more space to music and the gig guide.
Undoubtedly the most controversial change will be the price increase from 70p to £1.
That’s a big leap I know. But it is a recognition of the fact that many of the advertising revenues which effectively subsidised quality local journalism are receding.
If we want to maintain our high standards and provide high quality, comprehensive coverage across a huge and varied geographical area then we must charge a fair price for it.
I know you’ll let me know pretty quickly if you disagree with that.
We’ll be pulling out all the stops to make sure we deliver the paper you asked for. I really hope you stick with us.