Rachel Howells, Captain Beany and Beverley Simmonds-Owen distributing the last issue of the Magnet

Goodbye from the Port Talbot Magnet team

4 October 2016

Our editor Rachel Howells explains why Issue 11 will be the last print edition of the Port Talbot Magnet.

After almost seven years of covering Port Talbot’s news and sport, we’ve taken the difficult decision to stop publishing the Port Talbot Magnet newspaper.

It’s a day that has threatened to come for almost as long as we’ve been in business –  producing the Magnet has never been an easy ride, from the moment our group of local journalists first had the notion of trying to replace the Port Talbot Guardian back in 2009, to this year, a particularly tough one for Port Talbot given the uncertainty over Tata’s future.

So precarious, yes, but never dull. How many other towns can boast their very own orange bean-themed superhero? How many other towns have so many internationally famous residents and Hollywood names? How many others are dominated by an awe-inspiring steelworks? More important, how many others have so many active, campaigning and community minded residents, people who face all adversity, all the crazy decisions of the powers that be, with such good humour and unswerving optimism?

Port Talbot is unique, and I speak as a Swansea girl who has come to love the place. I have been constantly inspired by the people who live here, and it has been a privilege to get to know so many of you, to hear your stories and to give you a voice in the newspaper. I have never been lost for a story, never wondered what might make the front page. There is no shortage of news in Port Talbot.

What there is, unfortunately, is a lack of opportunities for good local journalism to flourish. It’s been a growing problem across the UK for at least 15 years, and that should be a huge concern to us all. Without journalists, who is finding out what’s happening, and letting everybody know about it? Who is asking rich and powerful people important questions? We can’t rely on Facebook for the most important things that affect our lives – we need independent journalists and their skills.

The fact is that the number of journalists working in Port Talbot has fallen more than 90 per cent in the last 40 years. In 1970, five newspapers had offices here, and there were ten or more reporters competing for stories. Today, without the Magnet, there will be only one local journalist reporting Port Talbot’s news – so treasure her.

The decline in local news has been caused by many things, but it is having a serious impact: in the absence of quality journalism there is increasing reliance on rumour, speculation and word of mouth, fuelled by social media. People tell me they have trouble getting those in power to listen to them or answer their questions – and they are getting angry, particularly the young. The good humour may evaporate if people feel they don’t have a voice.

For all our faults, we were trying to do things in the right way at the Magnet. To take our time over stories, ask questions, investigate. We didn’t always get it right, but we spent time on things, got out of the office, spoke to people face to face, and, whenever we could, dug behind the press releases to find out what was really going on.

But we can’t keep doing so indefinitely without earning a wage from it. The Magnet has always relied heavily on its band of volunteers, in the hope of making it sustainable in the long term – but sadly there is little sign of that happening in the immediate future: despite all our hard work, we have only ever broken even financially.

On a personal note, the hours I have been putting in on the Magnet mean I have barely seen my family in recent months, and I have missed out on precious time with my two little girls. So I have taken the sad, but necessary, decision to stop now. Family comes first.

So, finally, this is a call to arms. Port Talbot needs and deserves good quality news, but it must now come from you. Given time and dedication, a local news service can work. A host of small publishers are succeeding in print because they offer a truly local service, and have a willing audience who love what they do – and advertisers have followed. Unfortunately the Tata effect has stopped that from happening in Port Talbot for now.

To help keep things going, the Magnet is willing to hand over the website, the Facebook account and the Twitter account to local people, if someone will step up to take over. We can organise training and support through our contacts at Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism.

We believe there is a potentially viable business here for the right person or group – people love the newspaper, and can’t wait to take it out of our hands once it’s printed. If you’d like to discuss the options, please get in touch. But if this really is the end for the Magnet, the website and print edition are archived at the National Library of Wales, and so the last seven years of Port Talbot life will still be available for future generations to see.

The last thing to do is to thank everyone who’s been part of the Magnet over the years – from our loyal readers and friendly contacts who brought us stories of all shapes and sizes, to our supportive advertisers; from the army of volunteers who have contributed their time and talents, to the partner organisations such as NSA Afan, Port Talbot YMCA, David Roberts at Accountancy Wales and Cameron Jones Hussell and Howe Solicitors who have given us office space and services in return for advertising. Also to those at the Centre for Community Journalism, who have offered practical help and advice over many years.

We’d also like to thank our suppliers for going the extra mile for us, particularly Gunn Deliveries, who have been excellent at getting the newspaper out to homes, often in the wettest of circumstances. Behind the scenes, the dedicated band of directors and the team of freelance journalists and photographers who have put in far more hours than they charged for deserve special credit for having made the whole thing possible. Thank you!

They say a newspaper should hold up a mirror to a town. I hope you’ve liked what you’ve seen over the last 11 editions. It is a chapter in my life of which I am very proud, and I look forward to seeing the phoenix that arises from the ashes of the Magnet.

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