Wakefield Express

Our speaker on November 4 was Julie Marshall, who gave a talk on the Wakefield Express, charting its development from 1852 when it was founded by John Robinson, who started the Liberal weekly paper.

Julie has been with the paper for 37 years, working in various roles before deciding that her heart was on the reporting side and returned from a journalism course as a trainee reporter. Her initial patch was Wombwell near Doncaster where she was expected to produce stories for the paper from a very small patch indeed, considering it a baptism of fire. By 1992 she was a junior reporter then features editor.

Julie contrasted the 1990s, when there were 12 reporters solely for the Wakefield Express and a staff of 28 people in the office, with the fact that now there were 27 reporters covering the whole of Yorkshire, a massive patch to cover. She was pleased to inform us that the paper still had a healthy readership.

Illustrating these changes in another way, Julie showed us the film Lindsay Anderson made of the Wakefield Express in 1952, one of many corporate films on which he cut his director’s teeth. The film was called Portrait of a Newspaper and went into great detail, starting with how the content of the paper was gathered. This involved the reporter visiting the areas around Wakefield, talking to people in the street, shop owners and various public-spirited individuals. Visits to the Town Hall would glean information about possible new housing developments or other news which would be interesting to local people. Court trials were covered, as were sporting events.

Lindsay Anderson gives us a flavour of what Wakefield and the surrounding areas were like in 1952 and visits the towns and villages covered by the five related newspapers – Wakefield Express, Pontefract and Castleford Express, South Elmsall and Hemsworth Express, The Selby Times and The Skyrack Express. All five of these papers were published in Wakefield.

All newspapers need advertising to pay for the newspaper to be printed and the film showed how advertisers like Kingswells were visited individually to discuss their adverts appearing in the paper. Small private ads and births, marriages and deaths were often the final items to be added to the last proofs of the paper before publication. The film also showed us how the newspaper was printed on a rotary press.

Julie showed us photographs of some of the people who worked at the Express, photos from inside the press hall and the Express offices in Southgate having its third tier added in the late 1970s. She told us that when she started in the early 90s, not much had changed since 1952 in the way the content of the paper was produced.

We were then shown another film about how a local newspaper was produced in 1994. Focusing on the Wakefield Express, it illustrated how tele sales and computers had transformed how the paper was put together: we also learned that the paper for the newspaper was sourced from Norwegian spruce trees. Lithographic printing was how the paper was now produced.

Completing her presentation, Julie informed us that in 2006, all production was moved to a printing press at Dinnington, which was the fastest in the world. Today, the Wakefield Express is printed in Edinburgh with all staff working from home, producing stories and sending them in electronically.

The Lindsay Anderson film can be found on YouTube and back copies of the Wakefield Express can be found on microfiche at Wakefield Library.

About Dave Huddart