Tribute to former News Letter journalist Joe Oliver as ‘one of the newspaper characters’ of the day

One of Northern Ireland’s best-known journalists during the early days of the Troubles has died aged 74.

Sunday, 9th January 2022, 3:39 pm
Updated Sunday, 9th January 2022, 4:06 pm
Former News Letter journalist Joe Oliver

Joe Oliver was the News Letter’s industrial correspondent and court reporter in the 1970s and early 80s before moving to the now defunct Sunday News and then into freelance journalism – at one point forming a news agency service with two other well-known reporters.

There is a strong journalistic tradition in the Oliver family, with Joe’s father William having helped set up the first official press offices for the then Stormont government, while his brother Billy also had a successful career as a reporter in Belfast.

Billy continued his career in journalism after emigrating to Canada.

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From his early days working for provincial newspapers, Joe eventually found his way to Belfast and joined the staff at the News Letter in the late 1960s.

He also spent 11 years as a partner in the Ulster Press Agency (UPA) with Jim McDowell, who would go on to became editor of the Sunday World, and Brian Rowan, who is best known for his work as a security correspondent with BBC Northern Ireland.

As the sole news agency in Belfast at the time, Joe was involved in covering a wide range of news stories daily, with his work reaching UK-wide and international outlets as well as all of the local media.

Joe’s wife Marie was the office manager of the news agency service at that time.

An obituary in the Belfast Telegraph described him as a “proficient and enthusiastic sports journalist and broadcaster” who covered live football for Downtown Radio and other media outlets, as well as being a “very capable tennis player” who reported on boxing and tennis.

Jim McDowell, a close friend who first worked with Joe at the News Letter in 1969, has paid his own tribute.

He said: “As a news reporter, he never side-stepped controversy, whether covering the power-politics of the Rev Ian Paisley at Stormont or the sometimes petty and partisan politics at Belfast City Hall.

“He was one of the old-school journalists who learned their trade ‘on the job’. He was also one of the newspaper characters in the city, and like many of us, he not only ‘lived’ the job but he ’loved’ it. Apart from his family, this was his life.

“He was a man who enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow journalists, whether in the crucible of meeting press deadlines, or in the calm of a local pub afterwards.

“His legacy will live on in the many stories he filed and which are now on record in many newspapers’ archives.”

Mr Oliver is survived by wife Marie, daughter Lisa, son Mark and wider family circle.

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