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      05.07.2002 10:18
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      It's hard to find a word to describe the Express & Star's size, as it's theoretically a tabloid but has much larger pages than most, and pursues (at least in its own mind, and in fact quite often in reality) a surprisingly upmarket agenda for a local evening rag, even considering the fact that it's based in such a cultured city (thank you, Your Majesty!) as Wolverhampton. Maybe I need to coin a new word for it - "broadloid", perhaps? It certainly trips off the tongue well in a Black Country accent. (Before we go any further, I'd like to head off the inevitable deluge of complaints by reassuring everyone that I'm quite aware of the controversy over whether Wolverhampton is genuinely part of the Black Country. I think we can sort this out fairly amicably by saying that, while it may not, strictly speaking, be entirely within the charmed circle, it does at least surely qualify for honorary membership by the very important criterion of not being Birmingham.) Anyhow, I've already said in another op that the Daily Mirror is my newspaper of choice on the way into work in the mornings: the Express & Star (never "Express and Star", incidentally) is what I go for in the evenings. The distribution area overlaps greatly with the Birmingham Evening Mail, which is perhaps the better known paper, and certainly much more of a traditional tabloid with its smaller pages and screaming headlines, but I far prefer the Express & Star, and not only because it's tuppence cheaper! So, it seems, do many others - by some measures, this is the most popular evening newspaper in England after the London Evening Standard (which the BBC seems to think is a national paper in any case...). The E&S is that rare thing these days - a local institution that is actually local, remaining a family firm in the age of multinational conglomerates. That means that it doesn't have to pander to what some suit in London (or even Be
      rlin or New York) wants, and is free to pursue its own agenda and do what it thinks is right for the Black Country. Admittedly I don't always agree with that agenda, as it's rather rightwing for my tastes (though generally in an old-fashioned "Shire Tory" way), but at least it's a genuine one, and that connection with the region comes through very strongly, not least in the major differences in news coverage between the various local versions: there are separate editions for Wolverhampton, Dudley, Halesowen, Stourbridge, Kidderminster, Walsall, Sandwell, Great Barr, Cannock and Stafford, plus a "City Edition" sold in the centre of Birmingham; and as many as half the pages may be in only one or some of them. This local pride can be easily observed if you take a trip to Wolverhampton (what do you mean, you'd rather swim in cold porridge? Cheek) - get off the tram and walk a couple of hundred yards to the bus station, where you will find: any number of kiosks (identified by the seller's traditional cries of "Prestar!"), all of which do good business despite being about 50 yards apart; the Stars News shop (that's another unusual thing these days - the paper still directly owns a large chain of newsagents, which are generally very good); and, most of all, the vast edifice that is the Express & Star building. When so many papers have moved to soulless, high-tech sheds on industrial estates in the middle of nowhere, it's rather agreeable to find that the solid stone and brick HQ of the Express & Star is still slap bang in the city centre, and to walk down its access road in the afternoon and watch the pages hurtling around the printing presses just as they do in the films (too fast to get a free read, sadly...) or listen to the hustle and bustle of the van drivers as they load up and prepare to deliver the news. And news is what the Express & Star is all about. Most tabloids rely on headlines that
      fill three quarters of the page and on their feature pages, with actual news something of an afterthought. Here it's more or less the other way about, with page after page of straight news reporting. It might not always be the most thrilling scoop - "firemen put out a grass fire in Birchen Coppice, Kidderminster" or "there will be a tea dance at Wombourne cricket club on Tuesday" - but I love reading this sort of thing, and think it's a shame that so many other local papers have relegated it almost out of existence. It's almost like going back to another era, before TV and the internet, when people relied on the local paper for information, and I like that. (Actually, if you're quick in getting over to www.expressandstar.com , you'll see that a current story is "Naked woman caused cyclist to crash", which is perhaps a little less run-of-the-mill!) The letters page of the E&S has recently been overhauled, and personally I think it's a shame that they will no longer accept pseudonymous correspondents. Admittedly, fewer and fewer papers do these days, but I really don't see the harm in it provided that the pen names are kept consistent. Certainly many fellow readers will have felt a pang when they realised that no more would be seen the (in)famous monikers of such as "Old Dudleian". It's all well and good to say that if you're going to put forward a controversial opinion, you should be willing to stand up and be counted, but as many of us know on this very site, sometimes a pseudonym can be much more effective. As with most papers, the quality of the columnists varies considerably. Perhaps the two best known are Shirley Tart and Peter Rhodes. The latter's column, until recently known as "Unclassified Rhodes" (a great title that I can't understand the reason for dropping), is what you might expect from the (now dropped) title - a collection of complaints, to b
      e honest. He's rather tiresome when he starts going on and on about New Labour, he EU and perceived "political correctness gone mad" (though if you think that's bad, try reading George Tyndale in the Sunday Mercury!), but he can be quite entertaining when presented with an easy target. There's a representative example of his column on the paper's generally well-designed website, here: http://www.expressandstar.com/Estar2/life/rhodes.asp Shirley Tart is probably the Express & Star's most famous columnist. Nominally she's the paper's Royal Correspondent, a role she fulfilled with great aplomb when the Queen Mother died, but in truth she's attained, as a proportion of long-serving writers do, a sort of "institution" status, and she certainly doesn't confine herself to matters royal. She is rather old-fashioned in some of her views, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, and her writing is always very readable. Here's a column she wrote about the Queen Mother's coffin arriving at Westminster Abbey, from the E&S's sister paper, the Shropshire Star (it was certainly in the Express & Star itself, but I can't find a link): http://www.shropshirestar.com/features/queenmother/life.asp Sport, of course, especially football, is a very big part of Black Country life. The paper mainly focuses on the "big six" local teams - Wolves, WBA, Walsall, Harriers, Villa and Blues - in roughly that order of priority. (Of course, the workers at the West Bromwich edition might disagree!) Usually one reporter specialises in each team, which leads to better mutual understanding between club and paper; certainly there don't seem to be the sort of antagonistic relationships that have led to papers being banned from grounds by megalomaniac chairmen elsewhere in the country. I can only really comment on the clubs I know something about, but certainly David Instone's Wolv
      es reporting and that of Tim Nash on Harriers seem to be fair and unbiased for the most part. Cricket is the best covered of other sports, with plenty of news and views about the Birmingham League and its lower divisions (where, sadly, languish Kidderminster CC), and - for once in a tabloid - athletics isn't virtually ignored, thanks to the success of local clubs Birchfield Harriers (the home club of Mark Lewis-Francis, Denise Lewis and Daniel Caines) and - sadly to a lesser extent now than in days of yore - Wolverhampton & Bilston. Other sports tend to suffer as a result, though there's probably more greyhound racing coverage here than in most papers, local or national! Overall, then, the Express & Star is a good, solid, provincial newspaper of the sort that isn't really supposed to exist any more. I can't say I particularly like its political stance - especially a rather distasteful recent campaign against immigration, which I thought overstepped the mark a little - but I continue to buy the "broadloid" because it's such an excellent local news source, and that, I suppose, is really what an evening paper should be all about. (Oh, the title? Roughly translated, it means "great, mate"!)

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