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Dyson at Large: A 'penny dreadful' dilemma

The Liverpool Echo had enough violent deaths, murders, beatings and serious crimes to lead a week’s worth of papers on Friday 23 July.

“Tragedy of death ‘race’ girlfriend” was the page one splash, reporting how a 25-year-old charity worker perished while apparently road-racing her boyfriend on the A41 near Eastham.

Then a page three kicker headlined “Man admits manslaughter after death of pub landlord” told of a punch-up gone wrong at the Irish Club in Warrington.

“Yobo’s brother lost teeth in attack” was a similar-shaped tale on page four, describing how the Everton FC star’s younger brother was attacked with a metal bar at a cash-point in Woolton.

A gentler headline “Coroner warns on railway dangers” on page six hid the gruesome detail of the double death, a graffiti tagger falling from a railway embankment in Vauxhall, triggering the suspected suicide hanging of his girlfriend.

But the risk of becoming a ‘penny dreadful’ continued with “Man jailed over Sky card killing” leading page 13 lead on a man who fatally stabbed his friend through the heart after a row over a £40 forged TV card.

Then we had a lead on a nurse strangled to death headlined “Mum feared ‘sex addict husband'” on page 16, followed by the callous murder of a ‘good Samaritan’ on page 18 under a banner reading “Tony was a big softie.. we will miss him so much”.

Other grisly tales that only made single columns included: “Ex-soldier jailed for child porn” on page 11; “Husband on kill bid charge” on page 14; and “Thief who preyed on elderly…” on page 19.

My point in highlighting the apparent mayhem is not to criticise the Echo’s news list. Crime told well with names and pictures sells papers, and only one of the above leads had no images.

What impressed me was the way editor Alastair Machray and his designers in Liverpool managed to massage the severity of the stories with selective placement and contrasting headline styles.

Note how several brutal stories that could have made the splash on quieter days were laid out on left-handers; others were down-paged; and a couple were given ‘talky’ headlines that were less forceful to the reader.

And having decided on the strong ‘race tragedy’ for page one, the backbench was careful not to boost or write off any other death or crime, instead teasing sport, a feature, a competition and non-violent news.

A less experienced news desk may have filled page one and the early book with the vicious tales, but I thought the Echo balanced topics well.

The carnage was interspersed with other hard news that included a housing boss resigning over rat infestation on page three, floods misery on page five and the latest on the Hillsborough investigation on page seven.

And there were softer leads too, including the UK’s fire-fighting motorbikes on page two and top marks for Merseyside hospitals on page 11.

This careful light and shade approach left the reader knowing there had been a day of bloodshed on Merseyside, but not feeling that this had been rammed down the throat.

My one criticism of the news pages was the pages eight and nine spread given over to TV icon Phil Redmond to rave over David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ initiative. This, I felt, was far too wordy, not well-written for such a lengthy read and, a little worryingly, with no balancing criticism of the ConDem strategy.

But I did like the consistent use of eye-catching subheadings in white on blue ‘labels’ on every news page, a clever way of grabbing the reader with useful detail.

In all there were 84 stories carried on 20 news and main-book features pages, which I thought was a bit of a low count for a Friday paper.

There were, however, an additional 35 reviews and previews, three pages of listings and a packed ‘Echo Puzzles’ page in a 16-page pull-out entitled ’24 seven’. This, and a 12-page ‘Echo Motors’ section, made a total book of 72 pages.

It was good to see that sport had a healthy portion of 12 of these pages, largely wide open, and carrying a total of 36 stories and two pages of detailed race cards. Even in the close season, you’d expect nothing less in Liverpool’s mass-market daily.

I did scratch my head at the cover price though: is 49p too high a price for a paper which reported a 9.5pc decline in sales to 88,519 in the last ABCs?

Read Steve’s previous blog posts here

  • Steve Dyson worked in the regional press for 20 years, editing weekly, Sunday and daily newspapers in the North East and the Midlands from 2002 until the end of 2009. To contact him, email

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    davy gravy (11/08/2010 16:19:03)
    It’s good to see crime being resposibly reported. You can’t ignore it, and if there’s a lot of it about you have to report it but it’s nice to see the Echo working to strike a balance. If you don’t do that the readers could be turned off.

    Stevo (11/08/2010 17:26:28)
    I’m slightly puzzled that the review makes no mention of the avalanche of literals and stunningly bad design that is a daily feature of the Echo. Look at the inside page example – the pictures are badly cropped and you could get a bus through the gaps in the downpage headline.
    The headline on the railway story is a good example of the poor subbing that the paper is subject to – it’s not rare for an Echo headline to completely miss the point of the story like that.