28 November 2014

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Dyson at Large: Cat killers spotted on the coast

As a child en route to one of many Cornish caravan holidays, I remember sitting confused in the back of our Austin Maxi while my parents frowned but eventually laughed at how long it took for a petrol station attendant to serve us.

Only after a long chat with a passing tractor driver and a drawn-out conversation about the weather with another motorist did he allow himself to trickle fuel from a traditional clock pump, carefully filling us to the brim without spilling a drop.

It seemed like 30 minutes before we were on our way, but the lesson learned was that time stood still in this glorious coastal county where no-one ever rushed.

This was the attitude that flowed from the pages of the Cornish Guardian on 8 April, living proof that newspapers are far from dead.

That week’s Wadebridge & Padstow edition’s main book was a real cat-killer: 104-pages, 31 of them boasting 223 news stories. Another 16 pages carried more than 100 sports reports, and 22 pages of What’s On had another 58 entertainment reviews and features..

Added to this were 18 readers’ missives and five columns in a three-page Letters & Opinion section.

This high count was despite good-sized adverts, with 63 display ads in all; another 22 pages of the main book were crammed with classified ads.

That’s not to mention the 36-page FindaProperty section and another 36-page motors.co.uk pull-out, together creating 176-pages.

Fine, I hear you say, great revenues, but what about content quality?

Well, to be honest, I initially struggled to be captivated by the splash predicting traffic misery in June, and the Easter bonnet picture felt a little twee.

That said, the gridlock fears surrounded the major Royal Cornwall Show in Wadebridge, the grumble with local police about planned inaction bound to be a talking point for readers.

And the Easter celebrations turned to more pictures from the annual Padstow Egg Roll involving 1,000-plus locals, and again would have mattered for many families.

Space was left on page one for eight write-offs to inside stories, though here I have to frown and encourage more proofing care: the ‘No invite for you’ cross-reference reads ‘See page 0.’

There was plenty of substantial journalism inside, including:

  • ‘Fatal crash brings call for action on safety’ leading page two, with eight other stories, and three panels for contacts, contents and tides;

  • ‘Planners clash with officials over homes’ leading page three, with five other stories and four write-offs to content further in, despite a third-page ad; and

  • ‘Airport wins £1m training deal with helicopter giant’ leading page four, with a critical ‘Fears over waste plant’ full column drop and four other tales.

    This style continued throughout, each page the right mix of planning concerns, business news, local politics and community joy.

    Interspersed were concentrations on particular topics like the Around the Courts section, a total of 21 court stories set across six columns on a full page 12, and a further two columns on page 14.

    These were straight up and downers, containing copy as heard from the press bench but with no attempt at colour or spun intros – a refreshing read and nothing boring, as can be seen from these headlines:

  • ‘Drinking as a result of football disaster’ related to an alcoholic traumatised as a 13-year-old at Hillsborough in 1989;

  • ‘Set light to clothes after an argument’ described the climax of a philanderer’s text-based row with his girlfriend; and

  • ‘Pushed boy into hedge with vehicle’ told of a speeding fisherman’s dangerous driving.

    Then came a page full of 11 choral society reports; one filled with six archive pictures, selected each week by veteran snapper Bernie White, 31 years at the paper; another with eight editorial obituaries; and a three-page Down Your Way section, containing 75 reports from villages like Port Isaac, St Minver and Tintagel.

    Even the most mundane looking sections carried hidden gems, like this intro from a page full of local Women’s Institutes reports: ‘Laughter was the order of the day when Robert Bond came to speak to our March meeting and told us some tales from the sausage factory.’

    The sizeable sports section carried detailed reports and stats panels for the likes of Godolphin Atlantic v Newquay (it was 5-3) and Liskeard Athletic v Saltash United (3-4, a last minute own goal from Liskeard’s Lewis Russell ‘who watched as the ball dribbled agonisingly over the line’).

    I’m running out of space, but you can see that the local passion and care created a thoroughly enjoyable read. Not a bad experience for web-enthusiasts either, the thisiscornwall.co.uk website a conglomeration of content from four papers.

    But it was print for local detail, the Cornish Guardian itself published in seven separate editions, many pages changing to reflect different areas.

    This investment shows in sales figures down just 6.9% to 29,347 in the latest ABC figures, not bad given the deep recession.

    I dearly hope that newspaper groups take an executive-level moment to reflect on the results that the Northcliffe-owned Cornwall & Devon Media group get for decently-led local staffing, each paper having its own editor.

    So impressed was I with editor Zena O’Rourke’s Cornish Guardian that I even took a peek at its 200-year-old sister, the West Briton. This had a base pagination of 120, plus 36-pages of motors and a bulky 60-page property section, with a similar sales performance.

    Long may these consistent Cornish cat-killers continue unchanged.

    Read Steve’s previous blog posts here

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  • 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 steve.dysonmedia@googlemail.com.

    Steve’s blog is available via an RSS feed. Click here to subscribe.

    Comments

    Confused of Dagenham writes…. (21/04/2010 08:41:17)
    Why is this paper referred to as a cat killer? Am I being thick?

    Steve Dyson (21/04/2010 08:45:20)
    Thick paper with multiple supplements rolled up… a cat killer

    All Subbed Out (21/04/2010 08:54:25)
    Mr Dyson urges ‘newspaper groups’ to reflect on the staffing policy at the Cornish Guardian, but sadly Northcliffe doesn’t even have consistency within its own group, as the luxury of individual editors and those things called – what are they again? – oh, yes, ‘subs’ and ‘dedicated reporters’ – are sadly now denied to many Northcliffe titles.
    And the ‘cat killing’ I always presume derived from the unfortunate effect on any unsuspecting moggy dozing on the doormat beneath the letterbox when a bumper bundle of newsprint came through.

    Still confused…. (21/04/2010 08:56:34)
    ….well Steve, it would only kill a cat if you rolled it up and battered the hell of the little moggy in a fit of rage…but I suppose paper boys and girls can be quite angry these days!!!

    Steve Dyson (21/04/2010 09:07:24)
    It’s what I took to be a trad term, and I first heard it from Tony Lennox when he was editing the Metro News weekly I worked on in 1992, (…”we’ve got a cat-killer this week” when looking at the flat plan). Yes, the same Tony Lennox who’s about to lauch The Birmingham Press tomorrow!! Blame him for the confusion (he always was a moggy hater!)

    Richard Best, West Briton editor (21/04/2010 09:44:21)
    Don’t worry Steve, you’re not losing the plot – we knew what a cat killer was!

    davy gravy (21/04/2010 11:06:
    29)
    I’d never heard cat killer, but we all know other terms from the animal kingdom, such as dog’s C*** for exclamation mark, so I guess it makes sense.

    Ajinexile (21/04/2010 11:45:38)
    Cat killers? Steve’s polite way of saying the paper was ‘the dog’s bollocks’ (sorry sausage-savvy WI members, that’s ‘bees knees’). Seventy-five reports from villages like Port Isaac, St Minver and Tintagel — somebody’s on steroids in that neck of the woods. One thing about that front page: the text was too chunky; could have done with a cross-head (IMHO). As for the ‘No invite for you’ being referenced to page 0 — sh*t, now I’ll never know whether or not I should have turned up.

    Chopper (21/04/2010 12:27:52)
    My understanding of the term “cat killer” was due to the weight/bulk of the title so when it went through the letterbox if a cat/dog was on the door mat and it landed on the animal it was squashed…hence cat/dog killer. Nothing more sinister than that.

    Hengist Pod (21/04/2010 13:03:23)
    At the risk of sounding like Mr Logic from Viz, wouldn’t a paper that was able to kill a cat by dropping through a letterbox on to said cat be too big for said letterbox. Surely it would require something of the higher weight to size ratio of the Next Directory?

    Observer (21/04/2010 14:35:37)
    “Sales figures down just 6.9%”. Steve may be convinced, but are we sure the people of Cornwall think it’s a good paper?

    All Subbed Out (21/04/2010 15:13:07)
    I think, Observer, that references to circulation are all comparative. A drop of ‘only’ 6.9 per cent is one of the better performances among Britain’s paid-for weeklies, and therefore holding on better against a general trend. It appears to be the best we can hope for these days…

    Not so confused now of Dagenham writes…. (21/04/2010 15:53:38)
    …ah, Hengist Pod does make a good point. Perhaps if the Cornish Guardian teamed up with NEXT they could, ahem, kill two cats with one stone. Increase revenues in a new delivery partnership scheme and erdicate all the weak (and therefore unworthy) moggies in the southern county!! Logic prevails on HTFP.



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