The Redhill-based Croydon Sadvertiser‘s longest serving journalist, Ian Austen, is to leave the paper.
Austen is retiring, Inside Croydon understands, at the end of May after nearly 46 years with the paper and its related titles.
In more recent times, Austen has appeared to be somewhat marginalised by his own paper, which has had an editor who has tended to disregard coverage of Town Hall politics as uninteresting. Austen’s reports rarely benefited from the promotion or positioning in the paper which they might have merited earlier in his career.
Meanwhile, recent figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show the Sadvertiser with its lowest weekly sale in history, having lost one-fifth of its weekly sales in the past two years.
Austen has been covering the local Establishment for so long, he has come to be regarded as part of that very Establishment. Above all, he became something of a rarity in journalism in 2015, a trusted reporter.
“He has been regarded by the leadership of both political parties as a loyalist to both Croydon and its council, and at least he has made the effort to continue newspaper coverage of council meetings,” one long-standing Croydon councillor told Inside Croydon.
Another senior figure in local politics, who has known Austen for 25 years, said, “He must have sat through more Croydon Council meetings than almost anyone else, and for that alone he deserves a double gold watch on his retirement.”
Austen joined the then flourishing Advertiser as a teenaged trainee in 1969.
In his years with the title, Austen worked as chief reporter, education correspondent, news editor (twice), political reporter and local government and business correspondent, either in Croydon or on the group’s other editions in Sutton and Caterham.
He was also a popular and effective “FoC”, or Father of Chapel, the name given in newspapers for the branch leader of the trades union, the NUJ. This, if nothing else, was something which will not have enamoured Austen to the newspaper’s owners, who for a long period until recently were an off-shoot of the company which runs the Daily Mail.
Six years ago, the grateful burghers of the then Tory-run Croydon Council made a special presentation to Austen to recognise his 40 years of service.
At the time, Austen was reported as saying, “It’s vitally important that you have a local government reporter. I know a lot of the youngsters don’t like doing it as they think it’s dull.”
The Sadvertiser no longer sends a staff reporter to all council meetings. Nor is the Croydon Sadvertiser based in Croydon.
According to its audited sales figures, the Croydon Sadvertiser sold an average of just 6,087 copies per week in 2014 – down from 7,700 in 2012, a 20 per cent fall in circulation in two years. In 2014, the Sadvertiser continued to distribute free copies in the south of the borough, adding 22,000 to its weekly circulation figures. But even this was down by 8,000 on free copies distributed in 2012.
The paper’s staff point to its growing audience online as compensating in some way for this loss of sales.
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