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Talking Newspapers

June 25, 2012

How do you stay up-to-date with news if you can’t see the words on a page?

Although visually impaired people can listen to radio news, for many it does not provide the depth of analysis found in a newspaper, magazine or website.

In 1970 the first talking newspaper was launched in Wales – today there are 400 groups across the UK sending out recordings to 100,000 listeners.

But with technology that can read web pages aloud and news of funding cuts leading to one local service being cut what does the future hold for the recorded news service?

‘Great service’

Chris James, 54, began using the talking newspaper service in Swindon about 24 years ago.

He started losing his sight in the 1980s due to a condition called retinitis pigmentosa.

Previously he had enjoyed reading newspapers and motorsport magazines, so when a volunteer with Swindon Talking Newspapers recommended the service to him he decided to give it a try.

He said: “I can get local news from BBC local radio, which I do listen to, but the news headlines on the radio don’t provide the depth you get in a newspaper.

“Talking newspapers put the filling in the sandwich.”

Mr James said in his job in the housing maintenance department at Swindon Borough Council he was able to use a photocopier to scan in a hard copy which was then read aloud to him.

And talking newspapers are a useful way for him to know what is happening in his community.

He said: “It’s a great service, it’s free and run by volunteers who give up their time to help the visually impaired.”

Digital revolution

When talking newspapers were first set up the news was sent out on a cassette tape.

As technology improved some groups switched to CDs and in the last few years most have gradually moved over to memory sticks.

The stick does not need to be plugged into a computer as it can be used in an MP3 player designed for use by people with visual impairments.

Mike Wood, chairman of the Talking News Federation, which represents talking newspaper groups across the UK, said: “Around 270 have changed to digital recording across the UK with the rest slowly catching up.”

The service does not charge users, with funding coming from various sources including legacies, donations, grants and doing commercial recordings.

Mr Wood said although some services had struggled through the recession, with one closing down in the West Midlands, most were doing well.

“The vast majority are run by volunteers, it’s the ones that have paid staff that seem to have struggled,” he said.

‘Frustrated journalist’

One of those volunteers is Tony Vale who got involved in talking newspapers in the 1980s in Ipswich and is currently the chairman of Wymondham and Attleborough Talking Newspaper, in Norfolk.

He said volunteering with the charity appealed to him because it combined his other interests of hospital radio and editing a village newsletter.

“It suited me as a frustrated broadcast journalist,” he joked.

For his day job he worked in insurance and he is currently an adviser to the care home industry but as a volunteer he records news and features from local newspapers and is even able to conduct interviews that are recorded in the same way as radio packages.

He said: “A lot of our listeners are elderly and want their news how it was in the old days from a local newspaper or the parish newsletter delivered by a postman.

“People have a relationship with their local newspaper and it’s the same with talking newspapers – people tell us it’s like a friend being delivered through the letterbox every week.”

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