My local newspaper days

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Saturday 13th September 2014

IMG_1145Back in the mists of time I started my journalistic career as a Mirror Group Newspapers trainee in Plymouth. After eight weeks training – holed up in an unglamorous Portakabin learning the rudiments of news reporting, shorthand, law and local government – we were flung out to work on weekly newspapers across Devon and Cornwall.

Fiona Millar and Alastair Campbell were sent to the Tavistock Times, my great friend Marion Burns went to the Torbay News and I was assigned to the Mid-Devon Advertiser in Newton Abbot.

After a year we hit the heady heights of the Sunday Independent, a regional paper covering the whole of the south west – from Bristol to Land’s End. I was despatched to the Exeter office, so I rented a grotty bedsit in Pennsylvania Road, a five-minute walk from the Sunday Independent base in Sidwell Street.

All these years later I can still picture that office in my mind. It was a first-floor room with bare boards and bashed up desks arranged in a square. Phil Griffin, the chief reporter, sat by the window and dished out the stories – everything from gruesome murders to village fetes. My biggest scoop was the tale of a four-year-old who went shoplifting with his parents and stuffed his booty into his wellies. It made all the national papers on the Monday morning.

I was working in Cornwall this week so en route to stay with wonderful family friends I stopped off in Exeter for the first time in 30 years. I thought I’d visit my whole haunts – from the downstairs bakery where we bought calorie-laden cheese pasties for lunch every day to Coolings, our favourite wine bar.

Except everything had changed. The bakery is long gone, Coolings is a restaurant called Hatts and Sidwell Street is far more chic than I remember it – dominated by a vast branch of John Lewis at the far end.

But one place is exactly the same – and that’s Exeter Cathedral. I bought a cup of peppermint tea and sat on the Cathedral Green lawn in the September sunshine, happy to find somewhere I recognised.

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