A FIRE which tore through the Horsham offices of the West Sussex County Times in 1927, was to herald a momentous change for the newspaper.
Horsham’s oldest and most prestigious business reported the incident on its front page - breaking with the tradition of only running advertisements on page 1.
It was a decision which has set the tone and style of the paper ever since.
For that reason, a fire which raged in exactly the same spot in our buildings last month has historic precedent on its side for us to consider another significant change to the newspaper’s format.
Should we move the County Times from a broadsheet size to compact (otherwise known as tabloid)?
In recent years there has been a significant number of readers who have told me they would prefer a smaller page size - in line with many national newspapers.
Market research conducted this autumn showed strong support for us to make this change.
Backing from younger readers was unanimous.
But some traditionalists - myself amongst them - are less certain, which is why I want to give every single reader the opportunity to have their say before we reach a decision.
Do you want your newspaper to remain broadsheet - or would you prefer us to publish it each week in a compact shape?A few years ago, many local newspapers were published as broadsheets - but the vast majority have converted to tabloid. Indeed, the County Times along with its Sussex sister titles the West Sussex Gazette and Chichester Observer are now rare examples of the more traditional shaped page.
The trend was started by the national press when The Times and The Independent both went compact. They proved that quality newspapers can successfully make the transition to a tabloid format.
But there are strong arguments both for and against making the change.
A tabloid format is much easier to handle - especially if you are travelling on a train or a bus when reading the paper. Speading a broadsheet out across the floor or table or folding it carefully like a piece of origami is not the easiest way in which to read a newspaper. Compact also means that stories can be given a more focussed presentation on the page.
On the other hand, while compact gives you a page which is half the size of a broadsheet, it does mean that you must double the number of pages in order to deliver the same content. In the case of the County Times that means a compact version would typically run to nearly 200 pages each week.
Of course, a hybrid option is also possible - where the property section remains broadsheet within a compact main paper. Our broadsheet property section gives tremendous scope to show houses to their best effect across a bigger page and we will be guided by estate agents on whether this might change.
Unlike some consultations conducted by local councils, this one is entirely genuine.
We want to give you the very best newspaper each week, and if changing to compact enhances the reading experience of the vast majority then we will not shy away from taking such action.
Equally, if readers tell us in large numbers that they prefer the status quo, then the County Times will remain broadsheet.
The County Times is your newspaper. It’s your view that should and will prevail.
To help you reach a decision, we are also producing part of this week’s County Times in a compact format. It is not the entire paper, but it is a sample to help you appreciate how it might look.
We will be handing some of these out in the town centre and I warmly invite you to collect a copy free of charge from our offices in Market Square. It should be available from Monday.
I would also be extremely grateful if you would complete the consultation form on page 5 of this week’s paper. It can be posted or dropped into our offices at 14-16 Market Square, Horsham, RH12 1HD - or, if you prefer, you can email us the information to firstname.lastname@example.org
As an added incentive, one completed consultation form will be drawn at random on November 30, 2011, and the sender will receive £25 worth of Marks and Spencer vouchers.
You can also take part in our poll (right) and add your comments below.
Your views are of the greatest importance to us and I do hope you will find the time to help us make the right decision about the future format of the County Times.
Gary Shipton - Editor in Chief