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Dyson at Large: Cramming value into thin papers

I initially felt a bit worried when I picked up the Lancashire Telegraph on a recent Saturday.

Its skinny 32 pages made it feel as thin as a tea towel, on the same day that every national paper displayed their fattest editions of the week.

The newsagent was a friendly chap, and my immediate comment was to moan how local daily newspapers often short-changed their most loyal readers on Saturdays, giving their smallest offering to those who buy six-days-a-week.

But while this may be the case for some titles, the newsagent quickly replied that the paper was often even slimmer – and certainly not much fatter – on weekdays.

To prove his point, he showed me that week’s editions: 40 pages on both Friday and Thursday; 44 pages on Wednesday; and just 30 pages on both Monday and Tuesday.

“It’s just as well they cram the news in,” the newsagent added as I left, and after reading through the paper in detail I have to agree with him.

On just 13 news pages, there were more than 100 stories, and even more if you included the letters page and a detailed ‘What’s On’ listings page, with another 32 stories plus race cards in five pages of sport.

In addition, there were 31 mini-features and snippets in five pages of ‘theweekend’ section, covering diverse activities from family walks to food and drink, and from local X-Factor wannabes to gardening, plus 3-pages of TV listings and a page of puzzles.

Pages four and five were typical of the tight design discipline insisted on by editor Kevin Young.

Yes, I know that some are just ‘people pars’, but there are a total of 22 stories on the ‘worldtoday’ page four, and another nine on page five, the latter also carrying a strap ad and four-part boost to online content.

This wasn’t a one-off: there were 16 reads on page two; six on page three; ten on page six; eight on page seven; ten on page eight; and so on.

What makes this story count even more impressive is the fact that Young insists it happens twice every day in print, making full use of both his Blackburn and Burnley editions.

I pointed out his perseverance with local news nearly a year ago when on tour for my original Editor’s Chair blog at the Birmingham Mail.

I’m pleased to report that even on Saturdays this class editionising is still in place: ten news and four sports pages were editionised on 16 October, the majority whole scale page changes.

So what about the quality of the content itself?

I liked the counterintuitive style of the splash in my Blackburn edition, ‘£5,000 IF WE DON’T GET YOU THOUGH A-LEVELS’, especially as it came days before the comprehensive spending review that had most parents’ minds on the cost of education.

‘Residents alarmed by gun noises’ was a little too dull a headline on the page two lead, the actual story revealing the fascinating line that the disturbance was actually from a police firearms training exercise no-one had been told about.

‘Hooked on piranha pedicure!’ was the page three picture lead lightener, also boosted from page one, and this was hardened up with a kicker headlined ‘Teenager to rescue in fire drama’ and a column containing ‘missing girl’ and ‘baseball bat attack’ stories.

Other interesting page leads included ‘Teen cyclist hurt after gates crash’ on page five, ‘M&S concern at sales scramble’ on page seven, ‘Vandals disrespect war memorial’ on page eight and ‘Gallant officer’s award’ on page 11.

Enhanced story counts can sometimes include too many ‘coffee morning’ shorts, but I was impressed with the newsy nature of the Telegraph’s nibs.

Randomly selected ‘news in brief’ stories included: ‘Smoking bar man is fined’ on page two; ‘Handbag with £500 is stolen’ on page five; ‘New Asda store gets go-ahead’ on page eight; and ‘Family assault claims denied’ on page 12.

This is an example of good calls, courts and council listings coverage, combined with determined news leads and passionate sport – again editionised to lead either on Burnley or Blackburn FCs.

The slim pagination still concerns me, but the fact the editorial team is cramming the pages with decent copy with frequent geographical edition changes results in a paper of good value to readers.

The Newsquest-owned Telegraph has a cover price of 42p, and was recorded as selling 25,416 in the Latest ABCs, down -7.5 per cent on 2009.

  • Sex ad rating: 9.5 out of ten. Just a single, cheeky chatline ad reading ‘Quickie call xxx lie back & relax – pure adult’ with not too strong an image.

    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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