The Caerphilly Observer celebrates a decade of success and over 100 years of independent community news

By Matt Abbott | 25th Jul 2019

As the Caerphilly Observer celebrates its tenth anniversary this month, its editor Richard Gurner asks himself the question, ‘why do I do this?’

“Every other Wednesday, usually at around 1am or 2am, I ask myself the question “why do I do this?”

I usually console myself by promising to be more organised in the following two weeks and before heading for bed, I take one last look at how the latest print edition of Caerphilly Observer is looking.

At midday (or perhaps closer to 1pm) we send the paper off to our printers and start again.

It has been six years since we launched the fortnightly print edition, and ten years since I first had the crazy, and the somewhat naive, idea that I could launch a local news service.

Caerphilly Observer launched online on July 28, 2009, and my life hasn’t really been the same since. I won’t go into the details of the history of how I started the website. The Drum gratefully covered that earlier this year.

Richard Gurner holding the first issue of the Caerphilly Observer back in June 2013

On the Thursday that we are out, I jump in my van and deliver 15,000 newspapers to a variety of outlets. I often start the day mentally worn out, but my spirits and mood are always lifted by the readers I meet on this journey who often say that Caerphilly Observer is a great newspaper.

Given my fragile emotional state at times, these sorts of comments have often left me close to tears.

It means a lot to me, and my small team of Rhys, Joanne and Levi, that we are making a difference to our community. Since the Campaign stopped publishing in September last year, Caerphilly Observer is the only news services dedicated to the entire county borough.

Local news is as important as it ever was, and independent publications, like Caerphilly Observer, are making a difference to communities.

Richard accepting the award for Independent Community News Service of the Year award 2017. The Caerphilly Observer has won the award four times in total.
Credit: Wales Media Awards

Despite celebrating our tenth anniversary this month, we are not the first publication to bear the title Caerphilly Observer

The Bargoed and Caerphilly Observer was first published in 1904 by Rhymney printer George Jenkin Jacobs.

My father-in-law, a Welsh history buff, discovered the online archive of the papers on the National Library of Wales website (I should note that I had no previous knowledge of this when I chose the name Caerphilly Observer). A bit of investigation of this link into the past led me to a book entitled A History of Printing and Printers in Monmouthshire by Ifano Jones.

The book, published in 1925, details the independent publishers plying their trade in South Wales a century ago.

It gives the impression of a vibrant sector with a variety of titles covering their respective patches. 

The Monmouth Guardian and Bargoed and Caerphilly Observer June 1919

Together with George Jenkin Jacobs’ Caerphilly Observer, we also have David Davies’ The Tredegar Guardian, Henry Webber’s Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, and a host of others.

Reading the fragile book, it is hard not to draw parallels with today’s efforts from the members of ICNN.

Being an independent publisher is hard work, but the sector is once again proving to be a vibrant one – and not just in Wales, but right across the UK.

There are obviously challenges, and sometimes these can feel insurmountable, but imagine what it was like 100 years ago? If they could do it, then so can we.”

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