New building, new gaffer… but The Sentinel carries on

Former Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi.

Former Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Mike Sassi.

Last week was a momentous one for Sentinel staff with the announcement of the impending move to the city centre and the departure of our Editor-in-Chief.

We had known about both decisions for some time and, while they were tinged with sadness, they also mark the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the newspaper’s history.

They remind us that while buildings and people may change, the newspaper itself continues inexorably – constantly adapting and evolving to suit its readership and patch.

Relocating to Hanley, where The Sentinel has been based for most of its 159 years, represents a return to our spiritual home.

The move makes absolute sense as we no longer have a print works here at Etruria and, happily, it coincides with the multi-million regeneration of the city centre.

Our new home from the Autumn, the former Bethesda Sunday School, is steeped in history and we couldn’t have chosen a better base for a company which has been part of the fabric of life in this neck of the woods since 1854.

Handily located next to the Cultural Quarter and the proposed Central Business District, it means shoppers and anyone working in the area can nip in for a chat with a Sentinel reporter.

We’ll also only be a stone’s throw away from Hanley Police Station, Hanley Community Fire Station, the crown court and our contacts at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, The Regent Theatre and the Vicki Hall – among others.

That’s not to say that moving won’t be a wrench. The Sentinel has been at Festival Park since 1987 and many of us have fond memories of colleagues, past editions and countless hours spent here at this sprawling site next to the canal where the last remnants of Josiah Wedgwood’s original factory stand as a reminder of the city’s proud industrial heritage.

For exactly half the 15 years yours truly has been with my home-town newspaper, the man who has just vacated the big chair has been my ‘gaffer’.

I knew Mike Sassi before he arrived in North Staffordshire, having previously worked with him at the Derby Telegraph.

No two Editors are ever the same and, believe me, the appointment of the top man, or woman, is still a matter of great significance – and not just for the writers and photographers who report to them.

To my mind a newspaper, partisan or non-partisan, will always reflect the personality and passions of its Editor.

In that respect, I think we dropped lucky when Mike Sassi took over in December 2005 (I can say that without being accused of fishing for a pay rise because he’s gone).

I think it’s fair to say that he was at the helm during some of the most turbulent years that the newspaper industry has faced – given the economic situation and the way in which the internet has changed the game.

However, rather than retreating, Mike had us reaching out to our readership in new and innovative ways, staging major public events and forging partnerships with a variety of organisations.

The Our Heroes awards, the Class Act campaign which gave away tens of thousands of pounds to local schools, the Young Journalist Awards, and the hugely-popular Stoke’s Top Talent variety competition all happened on his watch.

These weren’t events intended to make us money or flog papers. Rather they were intended to cement The Sentinel at the heart of the communities it serves.

The campaigns we ran were the same: From Save Our Staffords which successfully fought to preserve the name of our local regiment with a 17,000-strong petition, through to the battle to bring the Staffordshire Hoard at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

But perhaps what I will remember most about Mike’s tenure was a night in December 2011 when yours truly was up to his neck in the troubles engulfing Port Vale.

It was Mike’s brave decision to run with the stories exposing how supporters had been misled by the then board of directors which led to the resignation of the club’s chief executive and the subsequent sacking of its chairman.

Any journalist will tell you that having the support of your Editor when the big calls are made is absolutely priceless.

Mike Sassi worked extremely hard to try to learn what makes North Staffordshire and its people tick.

He was as excited as anyone with Stoke City’s appearance at Wembley and the club’s adventures in Europe; Chuffed to bits with Vale’s recent promotion and genuinely proud to see the Staffordshire Saxon statue unveiled at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

I think our loss is genuinely the Nottingham Post’s gain but, as Mike will tell you himself, any Editor is simply the custodian – the caretaker, if you will – for the brand. He’ll hate this fuss but he’s earned it, in my opinion, and I’d like to wish Mike all the best in his new job.

Meanwhile, the original Neverending Story that is The Sentinel continues…

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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I look forward to tweeting-up with everyone (Come on Vale…)

The Twitter home page of yours truly.

The Twitter home page of yours truly.

The Leopard Hotel in Burslem has played host to some big names during its long history.

A couple of years ago none other than the crown prince of pop music himself, Robert Williams esquire, turned up with his entourage to engage in a night of ghost-hunting at the famous hostelry.

It is not known whether our Rob communed with the spirits of guests who once frequented the ‘Savoy of the Midlands’ as The Leopard was known.

However, he certainly followed in the footsteps of some illustrious names that night.

Names like Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley who met in the Burslem hotel 248 years ago next month, to be precise, to discuss the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Yes, some of the great pioneers of the industrial revolution once supped at The Leopard and tonight their modern day equivalents will be doing just the same. Sort of.

The Sentinel’s digital staff – the people in charge of our online operation – have organised ‘a tweet-up’ this evening.

OK. I’ll admit I had to look up what it meant. Basically, a ‘tweet-up’ is a face-to-face gathering of people who use Twitter.

In this instance, it’s a chance for users of the social network to meet up with their favourite/most annoying Sentinel journalists and, crucially, other influential Twitter users from our neck of the woods.

I can’t promise that the conversations will be as deep and meaningful as the one had by Wedgwood and Brindley in March 1765 but we’ll give it a go.

Tonight’s meeting of ‘tweeps’ (check me out with the lingo) underlines just how much The Sentinel has changed since I first arrived at Etruria 15 years ago.

Back then email was in its infancy, this newspaper didn’t have its own website and there was no such thing as Twitter or Facebook.

Nowadays our ‘digital audience’ (people who visit The Sentinel’s website) is more than 513,000 a month and this figure is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.

The immediacy of the internet trumps newspapers, television and even radio reporting and it’s something that even Luddites like me have had to embrace.

Indeed, most journalists would be worried if it weren’t for the fact that so much of what’s written on the web is nonsense and, thankfully, people still rely on trusted brands for their information.

Sentinel newspaper. Sentinel website. It’s all still The Sentinel, I guess.

What’s interesting to me is the kind of people from our patch who use Twitter to communicate with their friends/colleagues/contacts/fans and the wider world.

You’d be suprised at who’s tweeting and perhaps, more so, by who isn’t.

Stoke City and Port Vale players, darts maestros Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis, England cricketer Danielle Wyatt, mobile phones billionaire John Caudwell, the Chief Constable of Staffordshire, Vale chairman Paul Wildes, stage star Jonny Wilkes, your MPs, local councillors, and the chief executives of some major employers locally, to name but a few, are all at it.

What’s more, some of them even write their own tweets. (You can usually tell by the spelling mistakes).

Tonight a fair few of them will be meeting up at The Leopard.

In a pub that’s more than 250 years old a bunch of people, some of whom have only ever met ‘virtually’, will be brought together by the wonders of modern technology and the promise of a pint.

Yours truly (@MartinTideswell) is even being forced to miss watching Vale beating Wimbledon just up the road in order to be there.

Hacked-off because there’s too much Stoke City and not enough Port Vale in the paper? Or vice-versa? Our Sports Editor Keith Wales (@SentinelSportEd) will be having his ear bent about that old chestnut.

Want to talk campaigns or have an issue with one of our stories? The Sentinel’s Editor-in-Chief
(@MikeSassi) will be explaining his thinking.

Have a question about The Sentinel’s Business Awards? Our Business Editor (@annking) can probably help.

Fancy venting your spleen about the city council’s plan to relocate its civic HQ from Stoke to Hanley? Our local government reporter Alex Campbell (@CouncilReporter) will be only too happy to listen.

Then there’s our star turn – my columnist colleague and ascerbic TV critic John Woodhouse
(@jwoody67), who will be doing a Twitter-related stand up routine. I kid you not. (He’s quite good, actually).

I just have one request: If you’re one of the Twitter users who’s going along to The Leopard tonight, go easy on my colleagues, won’t you?

Most of them don’t normally leave the safety of The Sentinel’s bunker to meet their followers/readers in person.

In fact, it might be better at the start if you limit your conversations to 140 characters until they all get the hang of this talking lark.

Mine’s a Diet Pepsi and a bag of dry roasted peanuts, by the way. Cheers.

*To sign up for tonight’s tweet-up email: chris.hogg@thesentinel.co.uk or david.elks@thesentinel.co.uk

*A video of tonight’s tweet-up will be posted on The Sentinel’s website at 9am tomorrow.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

The Leopard in Burslem.

The Leopard in Burslem.