Hold The Front Page! A Life in Local Journalism

Before Snapchat, the internet, emails and mobile phones, Dean Powell followed his dream and became a newspaper reporter.

His love of writing emerged during a difficult - and at times lonely - childhood. Dean was born with a rare brittle bone disease which led to many fractures and broken limbs before he was a teenager. He underwent pioneering surgery in Whitechapel, London, but missed a lot of school and had to fill endless days recuperating in bed. He was imaginative and enjoyed creative writing - so much so that his dad set up a typewriter on a stand over the bed. This love of writing eventually led to a successful career in journalism.

Among the very many celebrities Dean has interviewed are Gregory Peck, Carrie Fisher, Larry Hagman, and Prince Albert of Monaco - but he revealed that “the real pleasure was meeting people in the street”.

He worked on various local newspapers across the South Wales Valleys, including one, the Rhondda Leader, which he thought of as like “two buxom ladies with their hair in rollers having a good old chinwag”. And yes, he did get to say: “Hold the front page!” - just the once, when an important story came in very late on deadline day.

Early in his career Dean became a senior reporter on the national newspaper of Wales, the Western Mail. This coincided with ‘Cool Cymru’ reaching its peak, with the Rugby World Cup coming to Cardiff and homegrown bands including Catatonia and the Manic Street Preachers at the height of their fame.

He told The Social Medicine: “It was a wonderful time to be working on a newspaper in the capital city, and I loved it.”

Several years later Dean returned to his first love of local journalism as editor of the Pontypridd and Llantrisant Observer, the newspaper for his own home town. Alongside the bread-and-butter stories central to any good local newspaper were campaigns fought on behalf of the community, more celebrity interviews - including with local boy Tom Jones - and some scoops which made their way into the national papers.

Dean’s passion for his community has led him to write a series of history books including the latest, written during lockdown, about two warring male voice choirs in the Victorian era. Dean hopes to publish this next year.

He has also been central to the restoration of Llantrisant Guildhall . Thanks to a £1.4 million, eight-year fundraising round, this Grade II listed, 14th-century building is now a heritage and visitors’ centre telling the story of the historic hilltop town.

Dean ended his talk to The Social Medicine by saying he’d never wanted to be Piers Morgan, but he would go back to news reporting in the Valleys tomorrow. In their heyday the strength of local newspapers lay in their capacity to champion the community, and to fight campaigns, he said. We may now have social media, but it’s just not the same.

To hear more inspirational speakers like Dean, join The Social Medicine free on Sunday at 6pm.

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