This time last year, I looked afresh at the Oxford Almanack. Bearing in mind Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year 2013, it strikes me now as something of a University selfie. Not many of today's snapshots, however, are likely to last over 400 years.
So impressed was I by the Almanack's long history, form and aesthetic appeal — and I might as well mention again the lamentable absence of a Cambridge counterpart — that, despite much time spent ruminating on the difference between Oxford and my adopted home here in the Fens, it's taken the advent of another calendar year to realise what has been staring me in the face. The Almanack is just the older, grander and better connected relative of its raffish young cousin, Daily Information, the poster displayed all over Oxford which, as its title suggests, lists pretty much everything that anyone living in the city might usefully need to know about what's happening, where and when. Pin-ups from different sides of the tracks, they share an uncanny, A2 resemblance.
The Almanack for 2014 features an illustration of Exeter College which is just embarking on year-long celebrations of its 700th anniversary. I'm not aware of any comparable plans afoot for Daily Info as it this year achieves its half-century. It may seem transient by name and nature, but given its interdependent, quotidian relationship with its readers, recognition of this golden anniversary is surely due.
Founded by renegade publisher, polymath and Pembroke graduate, John Rose in 1964, Daily Info is a curious creature. If one can anthropomorphize a commercially run information service, the most obvious, and appropriately Oxonian candidate would, I think, be Boris Johnson. Like London's Mayor, Daily Info is fearsomely well informed, uninhibited, anachronistic and, for its users (feel free to disagree here), indispensable to public life. Flattened in form but never in its altruistic aspiration, Daily Info is the entertaining, one-stop shop for listings, reviews and small ads, and is justifiably proud of its impressive 10am-the-day-before-issue deadline. Useful city maps and year planners are given gratis and its incisive cartoons gild the lily.
Kebab van reviews sit alongside Lewis Carroll-esque advertisements for 'well-trained' rabbits (for sale) or a Classicist (wanted) to advise a local circus on its forthcoming show make Daily Info a compelling selfie, though without the narcissism, of an idiosyncratic city. Considering it for the first time in years at the start of this new year, my first thought was the ancient one: that nothing changes. The second, less nostalgic, was that for all the smart technology now at our fingertips, we inhabitants of silicon Fen don't know what we're missing. Galvanised, my spontaneous, small and unscientific poll in Cambridge's college lodges yielded 100 percent enthusiasm for a copycat version. There’s a gauntlet laid down to any entrepreneurs out there.
Though he died ten years ago, John Rose, an innovator and activist — who in 1980 also founded Oxford's first drop-in computer centre and, some years later, its first internet café — remains Daily Info's guiding spirit. For many years, it was produced 7 days a week during term time and, by 1973, a survey showed that is boasted 5,000 daily readers. By 2004, there were 3 issues a week with the then recently established web version receiving over 5,000 visits each weekday, a figure that rose to over 10,000 by the beginning of 2011.
With an impressively user-friendly website, Daily Info is still produced on paper, year-round, twice a week and displayed at over 400 locations in the city, including every college lodge and department of Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University. Hidden in plain sight, like all the best kept secrets, it is one of the city's most valuable, and enviable, institutions.
So here's to Daily Information; may it guide you through a happy new year!
Image by BennCapon Pre2008 under Creative Commons license.