Newspapers all over the country, if not the whole world, are struggling to adapt to the challenges brought about by the new media – multiple channels of 24 hour rolling news - twitface – etc. etc. Added to that, the printed media’s lifeblood, advertising income, has been depressed throughout the banking and general financial crisis of recent years.
The Western Morning News cannot be immune to these factors, and must adapt to survive. One thing it has done is to sell off its award-winning flagship offices, built in the shape of a galleon, and move to premises near the docks. Another idea was the addition of a Sunday edition. However, circulation figures are not as predicted, as folk are probably already locked in to their favourite Sunday titles, and loth to either switch or add another paper to the already heavy bundle the paper boy delivers. But the experiment was committed until the end of January 2015 when it will be assessed. Until then, economies have to be made and the cutting in half of the Westcountry Life supplement on a Saturday is one of them.
With it went the chess column. That is the reason it has not appeared since October. In answer to the several enquirers I’ve already had, I am not too ill to write, or dead – far from it. Not yet, anyway.
The WMN chess column is one of the oldest provincial columns in the country. It started in 1891 under the editorship of Carslake Winter-Wood, writing under the nom de plume “Queen’s Knight”, in contrast to the contemporary Exeter columnist “King’s Knight”. In March 1906 the column switched to the Illustrated Western Weeky News. A. R. Cooper ran it from 1927 – 1939. Writing in the March 1939 issue of Chess, the eminent problemist, C. S. Kipping, observed that “the three British columns which have international reputations for their composing tourneys are (1) the Grantham Journal, (2) the Falkirk Herald and (3) the Western Morning News”. After the war it was taken on by former British Champion, R. J. Broadbent (1948 & 1950) but it was mostly devoted to problems. That is, until the arrival from Lichfield of J. E. Jones in 1956, who took the paper to task and insisted there should be real local news, so a chess column appeared twice a week, one by Broadbest and a new one by Jones (no relation).
However, Jones ran his column on the same lines as Howard Staunton ran his, a century earlier – that is, as a pulpit from which he would admonish any chess official who could not live up to his own high standards. In 1963 Jones moved away and when Ken Bloodworth took over he was quietly advised to keep it all low key. Which, of course, he did for the next 35 years. When he was approaching his late 80s, he wished to retire, but was keen that there should be no break to give the management an opportunity to end the sequence, and he recommended me to them, and the switch was smoothly made. I have now written 812 weekly columns.
There is now a hiatus until the end of January 2015 when further decisions will be made. If you wish to convey your personal opinion on the future of the column, I’m sure the decision-makers would listen attentively.
Their address is: Western Morning News, Studio 5-11, Millbay Road, Plymouth. PL1 3LF.