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In conversation: Jeff Norman and Lawrence Thompson

It’s “Goodbye” from him and it’s “Hello” from him! Jeff is taking over editorship of The Messenger, and conducted an interview with the outgoing editor to mark the occasion.

JN: So, this is your final edition as Editor, it’s not too late to change your mind, if you want to?

LT: There comes a time in the life of every publication when it needs refreshing both with the design and the editorial. Having sat in the editor’s chair for nigh on five years, I think now the Messenger deserves an editor who can bring fresh enthusiasm and a new approach. However hard you try to change, inevitably you run along the same tracks.

JN: What do you think you achieved during your time in the role?

LT: I feel my involvement as editor has been one of building on the then relatively new Messenger when I took over in 2012. My main aim has been to not only bring news stories of the many events in our villages but introduce features that lifted it up from being just a basic newssheet. Just on the practical front I think we have gone a long way to achieve this borne out by the fact that the Messenger is now fully self-supporting financially thanks to our very loyal advertisers.

JN: What is the most interesting piece of history you’ve learnt about the Village(s) in that time?

LT: We ran a feature for a while called Homes with a History that unearthed some amazing facts and more recently, the story of a secret underground bunker hidden in Thornham from where resistance fighters would harass the enemy should we have been invaded during the last war was fascinating.

JN: Have you come in for much criticism whilst Editor?

LT: Inevitably, as the public face of the Messenger I am the focus for criticism. From time to time I get moans but that is to be expected as we cannot please everyone all the time. Quite rightly in my view, we have editorially always adopted a stance of news reporting rather than crusading for some cause and when I have inadvertently veered away from this, the results caused some nasty unpleasantness. But having a skin of a rhino greatly helps!

JN: So, what are you going to do with all your spare time now?

LT: Well I will still be involved with the Messenger as Chairman of the Committee and I will continue writing my gardening column. I am also involved with a number of local groups such as Probus. On top of that, Barbara and I hope to travel more now I am free from editing the magazine.

JN: Will you still get involved with the Variety Club?

LT: Sadly, my ankle problem is now limiting my mobility so anything strenuous is out of the question, including the Variety Club because of physical limitations. Perhaps if they stage a play with a role for someone in a wheelchair, they might consider me to audition!

JN: This could be my “in” with the GVC, I could be your carer and push you around the stage in your wheelchair. Wasn’t “Young Mr. Grace” in ‘Are you being served’ in a wheelchair?

LT: We must tell GVC “we’re free!”

JN: What one piece of advice would you give me as Editor?

LT: The best advice I can give you is be bold but be realistic and don’t try and change everything overnight.

JN: What direction would you like The Messenger to take going forward?

LT: Well, you have already shown in the editions you have recently edited the direction you wish to take and it is one that is vital to the continuing success of the Messenger. The involvement of the younger generation you have managed to enthuse has tapped into a rich seam of material.

LT: More to the point, I should be asking you, what can we look forward to in future editions of The Messenger?

JN: For me, the Magazine must be visually appealing, with the use of as many photos as possible. Firstly, the human eye is drawn to a photo before text. A page full of text is immediately more appealing if there is a photo included and articles with images get 94% more views! Only 5% of readers read an article but almost all photos get noticed. So, space permitting, I want to include as many photos and logos as possible.

It is not my intention to change the Magazine radically. At the end of the day, it is what it is! Primarily an “information magazine” covering three Villages. One of the things I have learned recently, is how little “spare space” there is each month after we have publicised all the various events going on in our villages. However, I think there is scope to vary the content a little and try and make it appeal to a wider audience and I will talk in detail about our extending onto Social Media in the next issue.

It’s all about getting people to support you and buy into your ideas.

We now have ‘The Young Messengers’ reporting team in place and it is their job to tell the Magazine what’s been happening at School. (I’ve given them carte blanche to submit what they want; so, that could be interesting!). Gislingham School have always been very supportive of The Messenger.

I want to in every issue, include a human-interest story. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “life story” type article; it can be just about something interesting someone is going to be doing one month; or something they have achieved.

Over the past three issues, we have featured a 10-year-old girl who keeps winning trophies at equestrian events; a couple of guys who raised over £100,000 for Suffolk charities in one weekend; a 15-year boy who with three of his mates have formed a rock band, and another 15-year-old, hosting a Mexican Night to help raise money to fund his trip to Ecuador.

Now, there will be a lot of people who are not interested in horse-riding, ballet, rock music or Mexican food; so, we can’t please everybody all the time; but I felt these were interesting stories. And I am already working on several other articles about people for next year, and they are all very different! Somewhere in the 60 pages, something has got to make the reader smile!

The Magazine is only as good as its content so it is down to the Community to give me the ammunition to use! You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!

Hopefully that doesn’t come across as though I’m getting on my high horse?

LT: I think it probably does, but as I said earlier, “be bold but be realistic”.

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