Pete Lazenby retiring from journalism? Not for a moment

A much-respected name leaves the Yorkshire Evening Post, but you’ll be reading him all over the place – including the Morning Star as the paper beefs up regional coverage, especially in the north

There was a famous newspaper based in Leeds during Chartist days, the Northern Star, and its radical tradition was ably revived in the 1980s when the Leeds Other Paper adopted its name. The LOP/Northern Star was a distinctive alternative voice and a nursery for independent-minded young journalists; but it was not the only place in the city where they found enthusiastic and wise advice.

For just under 40 years, Pete Lazenby has been a northern star at the Yorkshire Evening Post, fostering talent in addition to writing millions of words of his own. On the even of his leaving do yesterday, he took a ‘phone call from one alumnus in China and an email from another in Australia – David Rowley, whose father Alan was air correspondent for the YEP.

Air correspondent! Those were the days. In a parting piece for News Leeds, the excellent local newsletter of the National Union of Journalists in the city, Lazenby recalls that the joint editorial staff with the Yorkshire Post was over 200 when he joined and the circulation of the evening paper some 230,000. Today those figures are around 100 and 32,000.

The latter are print sales and we work in an increasingly digital world, with both the YP and YEP making many experiments online, just like ourselves. Lazenby regrets the losss of much that has weakened, especially in local papers’ resources to expose and crusade, but he is anything but recessional about the crisis of the contemporary media. He will be part of its a wider world; his ‘retirement’ at 62 is for family reasons, to help his wife Joan look after her mother at their home in Hebden Bridge. But from that base, his familiar voice and writing is going to be more widely heard and read.

He already contributes to the Guardian, Red Pepper and the New Statesman, a joint book with Anne Scargill is in preparation, and he is central to an interesting attempt at a northern surge in circulation by the Morning Star. From next month he joins the staff of what he proudly terms “the world’s only daily English language socialist newspaper,” characteristically urging the rest of us:

It’s essential reading, so I urge you to start buying it, comrades.

A Tolstoyan figure in appearance – his spoof front page presented by colleagues refers to his ‘terrifying facial hair’ and shows how long he has had it – Lazenby has led a parallel and equally active career as an NUJ stalwart at Yorkshire Post Newspapers. As joint father of the chapel with Peter Johnson, he has protected scores of jobs and encouraged colleagues to thrive in challenging circumstances. He has the somewhat fazed respect of opponents within Johnston Press as well as allies.

Those he has exposed in his journalism, with the fairness and diligence of a reporter schooled in traditional local paper ways, will not be able to rest easy. Extreme right wing groups, for example, have been the subject of his persistent monitoring, and that of his alumni who also include our own colleague and YEP graduate, Matthew Taylor.

A message from Barry Fitzpatrick, deputy general secretary of the NUJ, was delivered yesterday to the Hourglass where Pete was marking his leaving with various gifts of red-colured menswear and framed strike posters, and giving a thankyou speech in a Russian fur hat, holding a red flag. Arriving at the same time as Jessica Ennis’ homecoming to Sheffield, it called him a “true gold medallist.” Like Ennis, Redgrave, Hoy and Co, you can expect him to see him back in the arena, from today.

The LOP/Northern Star was a distinctive alternative voice and a nursery for independent-minded young journalists; but it was not the only place in the city where they found warm-hearted and wise advice.

Here’s a brief clip from Wainwright Amateur Films of Pete talking about the UK media at his do last night.

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