Departing from the job after two years, reporter Paul Hardman writes about how working in local news has changed his perspective on the Isle of Man.
There are many ways people recommend to ‘truly’ get to know a place – to drink in its pubs, learn the native language, befriend its locals, or live there for at least six months.
But working as a journalist for its local newspapers must rank among one of the best.
Before I came to write for Isle of Man Newspapers I had given very little thought to the place where I lived, or the existence of the close-knit community which surrounded me.
This is despite the fact that I went to both primary and high school here.
It is perhaps the case that we take our place of abode for granted as the ‘default’ setting of our lives.
A curiosity to explore our environment is often reserved for the novelty of foreign holiday destinations, or when we move to a new city to live and want to make the most of it.
But the constant attention to detail required in the work of a local newspaper reporter has given me what I call a kind of ‘Manx mindfulness’ when it comes to appreciating the uniqueness of the island throughout my everyday life.
I only went through a comparable change in perspective after leaving the island at 19 to attend university in Scotland.
Having visited the UK countless times was not enough, it was not until I actually lived there for an extended period that I was able to return to the island and appreciate what a unique place it is, and what a great way of life that it offers.
In fact, despite the island’s difficulties in attracting its new graduates back here to live, I have heard this from several friends who returned from UK universities.
Many noted something similar during the lockdowns, when being physically unable to travel, Manx residents focused their energy inwards and decided to spend more time exploring the island.
Before I worked here there were huge gaps in my local knowledge.
I only found out who, or even what, the island’s chief minister was at the onset of the pandemic, when I (for the first time) had urgently checked a local news website to find out whether the island was about to shut its borders.
Despite the fact I was studying for a master’s degree in international relations at the time – and so could hardly be called an apolitical person – I had never given a second thought to who would have the power to make such pivotal decisions about the island’s fate.
Until the Covid-19 press conferences (many of which I took part in from my kitchen table via Zoom) that gave these politicians a more visible profile, the politics and governance of the island is not something that many people in their 20s would have ever given much thought to.
A greater focus on local community and events is often something that comes with age, but it should not have to be.
Local commissioners, MHKs, the Department of Education, Sport and Culture – these were just passing terms which I glanced over in phone books or saw attached to the top of letters about tuition fees.
I had no idea that the island even had a Lieutenant Governor (eliciting cringes in the newsroom when I first pronounced it in the American way of ‘Loo-tenant’), let alone what this historical role signifies about our unique constitutional relationship with the UK.
More specifically, the period between 2020 and 2021 was a fascinating one to be doing this particular job, as a journalist chronicling the bizarre and historic times of pandemic, which impacted the island in a unique way.
I’ll never forget how the island suddenly found itself in the international spotlight for the strangest of reasons, when the world’s press picked up the story of the man who broke Covid restrictions by riding to Ramsey from Scotland on a jet ski.
This resulted in our newsroom fielding calls from major news outlets ranging from the New York Times to the Sunday Times, which were all fascinated to hear first-hand from us about this ‘Covid-free’ haven that we were living in.
Other insights into the island I gained from being able to spend time looking into its past.
Despite being a lover of history, particularly that of the Second World War, I had never given any thought to the role which the island played in it.
I was far more interested in reading up on the war’s glamorous battles and leaders, and it was only through doing research for articles that I realised how much unique wartime history lay on my doorstop.
Driving past Ramsey Grammar school, I had never known that it was the base of one of the world’s first aircraft control centres, when fighter planes flying out of the RAF station at Andreas were coordinated from it as they protected cities like Liverpool and Belfast.
Or running along the town’s promenade, I never would have guessed that the square marks still visible in the concrete were from fence posts that surrounded one of the war’s major internment camps.
There were also fascinating overlooked aspects of the island’s wartime history which I learned, like the understudied role of Steam Packet ferries in the evacuations at Dunkirk.
I found out about the bravery of these Manx crews and the thousands of men they rescued only after reading the award-winning dissertation of a newspaper colleague.
Working in my first journalism role has also changed the way I consume news myself.
Before, it never would have crossed my mind to buy a physical newspaper.
Yes, most people of this generation will point out that you can get the important facts just the same through a website or mobile app.
But through being in the world of print media, I have come to appreciate the work that goes into a nicely-written feature, or the more in-depth political coverage that a newspaper can provide you where there wouldn’t be room in shorter online articles.
There would be too many of my favourite articles to list here, but among them are some of the unique situations I’ve been placed in as a reporter, like being taken out for a spin in one of the RNLI’s new Shannon-class lifeboats, or examining 350-year-old excavated treasure.
Likewise for all the fascinating people my stories have focused on, there are too many to list.
But ones that come to mind include having the privilege of interviewing the likes of D-Day veterans and an intrepid Atlantic crossing ocean rower.
All in all, when friends from around the world ask me what it’s like to write for the papers here, often saying something to the effect of: ‘Oh, there can’t be much going on there, do you have lots of lost sheep to report on’?
I always tell them that they couldn’t be more wrong.