HOW times have changed. When I arrived at The Northern Echo as a fresh-faced reporter in 1984, they were the hot metal days of clackety old typewriters. The internet was the stuff of science fiction.

Today’s digital age is very different, but every editor in the 150-year history of this illustrious title has had tough decisions to make and challenges to overcome.

For me, becoming editor in 1999, the key question was whether The Northern Echo should remain broadsheet or be converted into the handier format of tabloid. Actually, the word 'tabloid' was banned because it sounded too down-market, so we called it 'compact'.

I’ve always believed in the importance of editors being part of the community. There’s huge value in getting out and about, talking to readers face-to-face, understanding what they like and dislike and finding out what they consider to be important.

What swayed the decision to go tabloid – sorry, compact – was embarking on the speaking circuit. Years were spent attending Women’s Institutes, Townswomen’s Guilds, Ladies’ Luncheon Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Round Tables and Probus clubs – and the question of whether size mattered was always high on the agenda.

Newsagents and advertisers were also consulted and, in the end, armed with masses of feedback, The Northern Echo took the plunge. Initially, we tested the water by only going smaller on a Saturday and it was a year later – on Monday, February 26, 2007 – that we went fully compact.

The front page that day was an exclusive based on leaked confidential documents revealing Britain’s leading kidney cancer experts were backing calls for the NHS to lift restrictions on two new drugs.

The response, and the sales figures, were largely encouraging, but it would be wrong to say every reader approved. Indeed, I still have a letter from a man in Whitby who wrote: “Dear Mr Barron, William Stead (editor in 1871) would be turning in his grave. Sir, you are a vandal and a ****.”

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Others lamented that the broadsheet had been the perfect size for getting a fire going and fitting in the cat litter tray. Another wrote to say his teenage sister had used scrunched up pages from The Northern Echo to help fill out her bra. Why a few extra tabloid pages wouldn’t have done the job just as well was beyond me.

The important thing is that the paper didn’t go bust and has remained compact ever since.

Other key decisions included the introduction, in the first year of my editorship, of a supplement dedicated to grass roots sport, called Local Heroes. Crammed with news, results and pictures from every amateur local sport imaginable, it included some unforgettable gems.

Perhaps my favourite was a football match report featuring Cockfield’s Sunday team. It told how the goalie, a well-build lad called Daz Denham, was fed-up at being 4-0 down. Disgusted with the standard of his defence, Daz removed his gloves, and announced he was walking off.

“No! No!” cried full-back Ergin Ozap, who owned a local fast food outlet. “Stay and I’ll give you two pizzas and a kebab.”

Daz hesitated but it wasn’t enough. Ergin upped the offer: “Three pizzas and two kebabs,” he shouted.

The goalie’s head was turned. “Okay, but they’d better be 12-inch pizzas,” he demanded before grudgingly returning to his position between the posts.

The pull-out also spawned The Local Heroes Awards, which have recently celebrated their 20th anniversary, and which have given me a kaleidoscope of treasured memories.

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Indeed, the memories of life at The Northern Echo are mostly good ones. When Tony Blair became Prime Minister, The Northern Echo was suddenly the Prime Minister’s local paper, with privileged access and one-to-one meetings in 10 Downing Street. For a Teesside steelworker’s son, it was utterly surreal.

To mark the turn of a new millennium I was also invited, with other regional editors, to Buckingham Palace and promptly managed to drop a beetroot and pureed pea canape on Her Majesty’s plush pink carpet.

However, it would be wrong to pretend it was all plain sailing. There was the time, for example, when The Northern Echo campaigned vigorously in favour of an elected regional assembly in the 2004 referendum, only for 80 per cent of voters to say 'No'.

On the morning of the result I was live on BBC TV from Palace Green, in Durham, when reporter Danny Savage started the interview with the words: “Mr Barron, you urged your readers to vote ‘yes’ to an elected assembly, they voted ‘no’ in overwhelming numbers – you clearly don’t know your readers?”

Other lowlights include the years of having to cope with George Reynolds as chairman of Darlington Football Club. Did all that really happen?

There were plenty of mistakes along the way, too, some more serious than others. Reporting that Gracie Fields, instead of Vera Lynn, would be coming to Darlington Civic Theatre was a bad day, not least because Our Gracie had been dead for a good few years.

Somehow, we also managed to get the pictures mixed up in a story about German fighter pilot Baron von Richthofen. We used a picture of me instead, reporting in the caption underneath that I was responsible for 41 kills in World War One.

Perhaps my favourite cock-up was the day we sent out the paper with a front page reminder about the end of British summertime. It was supposed to say “Don’t forget to put your clocks back this weekend” but we missed the ‘L’ out of clocks.

The time may have flown, but I will always be proud to say I was editor of one of the country’s finest regional newspapers.