So long Billy

ON the subject of William McLennan’s departure from the Camden New Journal last week, here’s a quick post to say to watch out for the name. Make no mistake, he did not fluke the ‘Reporter Of The Year’ prize at the Regional Press Awards earlier this year. He’s a dogged, perceptive journalist, one of the best to cover Camden in the last 20 years. 

As he said during the leaving do speeches last week, he had arrived on a work experience placement while we were running the successful campaign to save the Whittington Hospital’s accident and emergency department and was inspired by everything that was achieved back then. He went onto lead similar campaigns himself, railing against the poverty salaries paid to dinner ladies – they got a rise following sustained coverage – and more recently the exposing the unacceptable safety flaws on the Chalcots Estate. Billy and Tom Foot ended up pulling an all-nighter during the evacuation crisis but went further by asking question after question about what went wrong on behalf of those who had been driven from their homes that evening. Nobody explains compartmentalisation clearer.

And of course, Billy ran our Thin Red Line campaign, exploring the risks of fire service cuts – don’t be too sure the Brigade has been left with enough capacity to fight two major incidents on the same day – and racing after Boris Johnson in the process. 

His coverage of crime, meanwhile, steered clear of easy, tabloid language and tried to get to the bottom of what lies behind the unrest of recent years. He understood how the paper tries to ask different questions – be more than a tape recorder – and that’s probably why he stayed as long as six years. It’s not easy to find reporters who see the value and importance of local news, when done well. The BBC have hired a fine reporter, for sure.

And so while having praise from a council leader is not an obvious badge of honour in the field of journalism, he deserved the mention from Georgia Gould at the last full council meeting. Some of her colleagues have not always seen it that way. That’s the nature of the occasionally testing relationship between the Town Hall and the press. I’m not saying we are perfect, far from it, but the more thoughtful councillors understand that the council ticks better with a nagging local reporter like Billy on the case. We wish him well.

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