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Gloucestershire Business News

Punchline joins county's audio news map

For those who are blind or partially sighted, keeping up with the latest news presents distinct challenges, but a network of volunteers who work hard on converting print to audio across Gloucestershire is bridging the gap to ensure nobody misses out on the stories behind the latest headlines.

Together, there are six "talking newspaper" groups in the county: Gloucester Talking Newspaper covers the city, Five Valleys Sound operates across the Stroud area, Forest Talk covers the Forest of Dean, the Cotswold Vale Talking Newspaper caters for the southern end of the county and Cirencester listeners can catch up via Corinium Talking News.

Additionally, Cheltenham and the North Cotswolds is served by the Cotswold Listener, which is based in Rodney Road – and which has just joined forces with Punchline to ensure selected stories from our daily news bulletins are considered for inclusion in its own content.

The Cheltenham venture was one of the first in the UK to begin, in 1976, after trials in Sweden, dating back to the late 1960s, inspired the UK to follow suit. There are now more than 300 across the nation.

Initially, the Cheltenham team used specially adapted cassette tapes with a two-hour run time, but the cost, at about £5 each was prohibitive. Produced bi-monthly, recordings gleaned news from the Gloucestershire Echo, Chronicle, magazine articles and added information on sales, shop and road closures.

June Little, Chair of Trustees, said: "We now have 60 volunteers, with 19-20 being involved in reading, recording and producing. From cassettes, we went to CDs, but they eventually had to go: time was limited to 80 minutes, but our packages are now more than 90. And the system now is sustainable, given the reusable memory sticks."

What's changed more in recent years though, she says, is sourcing local news.

"Daily local newspapers meant a good supply, but they went weekly. That's why we are terribly excited to work with Punchline. Among twenty news items for the last batch, 25% that made the grade were from Punchline's daily news." 

Sustainability is also paramount with the Cotswold Vale Talking Newspaper, which now operates a dual communications plan.

Brian Gornall, Trustee, said: "We post memory sticks with the latest recordings out and our listeners plug them into a special player device, which is sold for about £50 by the Royal National Institute for the Blind."

Postage through the Royal Mail's Articles for the Blind Scheme is free, he said, with returned sticks are wiped in readiness for their next recording. As an option though, listeners can also stream online, via a smart phone or by using Alexa via the British Wireless for the Blind Fund.

"Production costs are always an issue for which we rely upon donations. For our newspaper, we pay £2,000 a year for studio hire although, as per the lessons of the pandemic when we had to improvise, half of our production is now carried out from volunteers' homes."

The reporting of local and up-to-date news, says Brian, is a hugely important service for giving listeners a sense of the world around them.

Brian said: "We do find, for our paper, that there can be a content famine, with news coverage becoming less local and more pooled across newspapers, so it is a delight for a media source such as Punchline to connect with the world of talking newspapers."

Against a backdrop of a rising population of retired news consumers though, Mr Gornall told Punchline that advances in medical science – albeit a fact to celebrate – may not ultimately be good news in terms of the demand for news read out loud: "We are seeing such improved outcomes in treatment of macular degeneration and cataracts that fewer people, in future, may need us!"

To listen to a talking newspaper, download the British Wireless for the Blind Fund App to your smartphone or tablet. It is free for the visually impaired, their carers, the dyslexic or anyone with a disability that makes reading difficult. Alternatively, more guidance is available from the British Talking Newspaper Federation at tnf.org.uk .

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