Comet at 50: 'There was only one title with staying power'

Former Comet editor Darren Isted, who worked at the paper between 1988 and 2014

Former Comet editor Darren Isted, who worked at the paper between 1988 and 2014 - Credit: Supplied

When I was told the Comet had reached 50 it did take me aback a little.

I’ve always seen ‘my’ local paper as something of a brash upstart. When growing up in Stevenage and even initially working on the paper people harked back to the days of the Pictorial and the North Herts Gazette.

As one of a new breed of free newspapers there was always something a little different about The Comet - even within our own group people from paid-for newspapers looked down their nose at this ‘freebie’, as they liked to say.

But those days are long gone, The Comet grew up around the turn of the century and saw off every other paper on the patch - who remembers The Advertiser, The Gazette, The Herald, The Express, Herts on Sunday?

The list goes on but when it comes to Comet Country there was only one title with staying power.

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Seven years after leaving the paper as editor, I still keep in touch with local news thanks to the sterling work of its reporting team.

I am amazed by all the extra tasks which they now have to do, feeding so many more ‘channels’, as some high up yet sadly distanced from the workforce in the industry like to call them, while still doing their utmost to make sure they are fair, impartial, get all the facts right and fight for their patch.

Comet editor Darren Isted with Muggy the Macmillan mascot

Comet editor Darren Isted with Muggy the Macmillan mascot - Credit: Archant

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We always tried to do that back in the day as well. And sometimes we made mistakes. The seemingly younger reporting team of today are doing exactly the same, perhaps with more pressure, and it saddens me to see the reaction I read on social media.

I truly despair at the conspiracy theorists who see the evil hand of ‘mainstream media' behind everything, including in their local paper. Some of the comments aimed at reporters seeing bias where there is none, is simply astonishing. 

I started at The Comet in 1988 and left after 12 years as editor in 2014. At a time when many publications have fallen by the wayside I'm proud to see it is still out there in the local community, doing all the things we were renowned for. 

News editor Kelly-Ann Kiernan, editor Darren Isted, reporters Laura Burge and Nick Gill

News editor Kelly-Ann Kiernan, editor Darren Isted, reporters Laura Burge and Nick Gill - Credit: Archant

All the roles I held were made so enjoyable, not just by the brilliant staff I worked with (some alas no longer with us) but also with the people in Comet Country we came across.

Councillors and MPs were (contrary to opinion) always good company and knowledgeable, charity and community leaders an inspiration and those who tipped us off about stories always keen to do their best for towns and villages.

In an age when print was king, we had no trouble beating the new emerging internet at the start of the 21st century. Indeed the only complaint that I received as editor (and it was time and time again at local group meetings and when networking) was that often people hadn’t had their copy delivered.

And we were keen to make sure people read the Comet. There was no real rival news source, no real paper opposition, TV and Radio were only interested in the big news and social media was barely a newborn in Silicon Valley.

But despite this the Comet staff then, as I’m sure now, were committed to making sure they were at the heart of the community. Running campaigns, covering major news, supporting charities, giving sport coverage for a host of clubs big and small.

And that has always been the secret of the Comet, it’s a paper which works for the local community, but which crucially relies on its input and support. A look at the letters pages shows just how vibrant views still are - and they are conducted without the antagonism and ill feeling of the social media wild west.

Former Comet editor Darren Isted

Former Comet editor Darren Isted - Credit: Supplied

Times may have changed, and the challenge of a digital age may be the biggest issue it faces, but the Comet has been a known and trusted source of news and entertainment for generations in this area - I’m proud to have worked on it with so many great colleagues, and for so many great readers and am sure those working on it for this 50th anniversary have a similarly proud tale to tell.

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