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August 2, 2018

County Border News editor who covered local issues but ‘never did sensational journalism’ leaves paper after 32 years

By Sam Forsdick

Kevin Black, who ran Tindle Newspaper’s County Border News for 32 years as its only staffer, is retiring from journalism after 50 years in the industry.

“I started when I was 17 in Scotland,” Black told Press Gazette. “So I think it’s time to take a bit of a back-seat after all that time.”

During his career Black has worked in Oman and appeared in a CBS documentary on “kids who kill” after reporting the murder of 14-year-old Breck Bednar who was killed on his patch by another teenager.

But for Black, some of his standout moments at the free Border News were the stories that helped his local community in east Surrey and Kent.

Black said: “The County Border News campaigned back in the early 90s to get money for a minibus for a cerebral palsy sufferer. We managed to raise the money thanks to the newspaper readers.

“I found that far more important in terms of local journalism.”

He was highly commended at the Kent Journalism Awards for his work campaigning on the widening of the M25 in the late 1980s and received citizen awards for services to the community.

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“It’s been a pretty satisfactory 32 years here,” Black said. “There’s quite a lot that we achieved as a local newspaper and with the help of our readers we managed a lot of community work.

“I never did sensational journalism it was all purely local issues and community life, I left the sensationalism to the paid-for papers.”

Black started his journalism career on his local paper – the Strathearn Herald, in Crieff in the Scottish Perthshire Highlands.

His first big scoop came when he secured an interview with the Scottish actor Dennis Lawson for the paper.

From there he moved on to weekly newspapers in Scotland before heading to England to work on the Peterborough Evening Telegraph.

During his time in England Black wrote for the music magazines Music Week and Melody Maker, joining the latter in 1978 “when the punk explosion happened”.

Black also spent several years working on expat papers in Cyprus and Oman.

He said that being assistant editor for the Oman Daily Observer was his “first taste of censorship”.

“You couldn’t say anything bad about the Sultan or Oman, particularly when the British government were so involved.

“You couldn’t say the things you wanted to say about the way that the Middle East was governed or the way it was going.”

He added: “I wanted to go to get the experience of working overseas, they were very political places and it opened your eyes to a different side of journalism.”

When he returned to the UK in 1986, he was appointed editor of the County Border News.

He said: “I never wanted to do national press because I thought you could achieve more in journalism locally, on a community type level. You had more to say with local papers and you could influence things more greatly than you could on the national press.”

He added: “For any young journalist it’s a very good grounding if you want to be in newspapers. Nationals have the glamour I suppose, but you find out it’s not that glamorous really.”

He spent three decades in charge of Border News, performing all roles including filing copy, subbing and taking photographs. Over the years he has witnessed many changes in the industry.

“Technology has changed massively and the advent of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and all the user based stuff has totally changed the face of journalism,” he said.

“You’re more accountable to your public now because they can get you easily.

“In the old days you could close your door and get your receptionist to say you’re not in, but nowadays they can get to you via Facebook and all these various other ways to hold you more accountable as a journalist.”

He added: “Print is in a bit of crisis and it will be regrettable if it disappears. People used to queue up to get your newspaper when it came out on Wednesday or a Thursday.

“They don’t do that so much nowadays because the public wants to see everything instantly. I look back in fondness to my days in print over the last 50 years.

“I was very chuffed to have gone through that, to work with printers and work with a compositor, as they used to call them in the old days. It was all part of the industry. I guess, like everything else, it’s got to change.”

Despite retiring, Black said he will “still take the odd picture”. He has launched an online local newspaper, the Oxted District Gazette, “to keep my hand in”, but admits he’ll “miss the buzz of a [print] deadline”.

“I’ve still got clippings that go back to the very first days 50 years ago so I’ll keep these and look back on them with fondness.”

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