18 December 2014

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Dyson at Large: From Russia with live news

Standing in determined drizzle outside a London Tube station was not the most comfortable way to commence a rush-hour journey home.

Yet that’s what I, and at least 12 other Northern Line commuters, chose to do at precisely 5.14pm on Thursday 25 February.

We were hooked by the headline spotted on waist-high piles of London Evening Standards and, instead of snatching one to read later, we stopped, one-by-one, in mid-stride, immediately gulping down that day’s live news.

‘I REFUSE TO PLAY IN WORLD CUP WITH TERRY…’ shouted page one, and the story that led nearly every national newspaper the following day was ours there and then.

That same scene must have been played out at every Standard drop-off point from 3pm to 8pm, thousands upon tens of thousands of readers suddenly rooted to the spot by the latest, stunning, remarkable and comment-worthy live news.

You could almost hear the ghosts of newspaper boys shouting: ‘Read all about it, Bridge hits out at Terry.’

I should probably just clean my rose-tinted spectacles, of course, as many ‘evening’ newspapers have abandoned this informative, exciting, breaking news role they were created for by switching to publishing the day before they go on sale.

There are still a few other ‘live’ evenings, among them the Wolverhampton Express & Star, which as I arrived back at New Street Station I saw had splashed on the same Terry story.

I had been damp and standing on my Tube journey, had barely been able to move on the over-loaded Euston elevator and was roughly jostled as I squeezed onto an overcrowded 18.23 to Birmingham.

Yet I’d hardly noticed the discomfort as I’d greedily devoured the Standard from front to back, time flying as that very day’s news was imparted in ink on paper.

What, all because of one John Terry story that just happened to be live, I hear you ask?

Well no, actually, because on top of Terry (so to speak) was a black fur-wearing Kate Moss attending that afternoon’s star-studded funeral of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, with a full story and more live pictures inside.

Among many other real ‘today’ stories, the Standard also had a live Crown Court report from my home city on page five, Angela Gordon cleared of murder after starving little Khyra Ishaq to death.

This huge breaking story was also on page one of the Express & Star, whereas readers of the now overnight Birmingham Mail newspaper had to wait until Friday (although, in fairness, my old title then devoted six pages to cover every angle with quality backgrounds and follow-ups).

But I digress, as a full overnight discussion is for another day.

This week’s review is on the Evening Standard, now the UK’s biggest provincial paper after including itself in last week’s regional ABCs.

Its last paid-for circulation was 256,229 in September, more than doubling to 608,533 by December after going free.

How on earth will new owner Alexander Lebedev make this huge print run profitable?

Last Thursday, on 60 pages, there were 28 display adverts, only one a full page, only four half pages.

There were another four-and-a-half pages of classified but, on arguably the best revenue day, does this really pay for a 700,000+ print-run, five-days a week?

That’s the former KGB spy’s business, but I certainly hope that the Rothermeres’ sell-out doesn’t come back to haunt London with severe pagination and resource cuts.

As it stands, and however impoverished some staff may feel, the Standard sings out with quality content on top of its live status.

A newsy interview with Lucien Freud on page three: ‘I owed the Krays half a million pounds’.

Good old knockabout politics on page 13: ‘Why I’m standing against London’s laziest MP’ (allegedly Glenda Jackson); and pages 20-21, ‘The liberal lives of the Teflon Osbornes’ (an in-depth sketch on Shadow Chancellor George’s scandal-hit brother).

Conceit for the high-brows on pages 29-31: ‘Sexuality isn’t interesting’ over a three-page interview with Hanif Kureishi.

The fun, oh the fun, of seeing Rosie Boycott writing the ‘Grow Your Own’ gardening column on page 31!

Sheer brilliance from clever old fart Brian Sewell on pages 36 and 37, asking whether Henry Moore deserves his monumental reputation: “…the grotesque contrast of gigantic bodies with tiny heads and tinier features that could so easily be the pinching and poking work of pastry cooks…”.

Six pages of in-depth business; eight pages of well-penned sport (largely detailed match reports, but also a page of fast-reaction analysis on Capello’s Wayne Bridge conundrum).

Despite its switch in ownership, the Evening Standard is currently still a great paper, an important part of London’s heritage and one the nation needs to shout much louder about wanting to keep at this level, (and, I would argue, for it to maintain live news).

Are you listening, Lebedev?

Other points to highlight:

  • 80 news stories by page 28; nine ‘London Life’ pages of arts, food and drink.

  • Each early right hand page had leading pictures, left hands devoted mainly to newsprint with drop-ins.

  • A bad point: at least a page of wasted space accumulated from the half-inch blank subject borders on EVERY page.

  • A final good point: I detest head-banging constant cross-references to online and was pleased to see only relevant, bespoke examples in the Standard.

    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

    Clem (03/03/2010 08:38:10)
    People may well have been rooted to the spot but would they have paid to receive the information? 12 people on the Northern Line isn’t a lot of people, and you’re working on the assumption people hadn’t listened to it on the radio, or seen it on the internet. There are so many other ways they could have got that information. You also do the Birmingham Mail a disservice with its coverage of the Khrya Ishaq death. You could get the live, on day coverage anywhere, but the follow-ups and indepth coverage was only available in one place. As sales of the Birmingham Mail testify, along with papers in cities across the country, splashing on big breaking news rarely adds to sales unless no-one else has the story. Perhaps you should have taken the Birmingham Mail free to preserve its on-day status?

    Dudley (03/03/2010 08:51:38)
    ‘Splashing on big breaking news’ certainly helps our sales, Clem!!! Not the only thing, sure, but late, live deadlines are one of several ingredients which still makes the Express and Star the UK top-selling regional.

    Hannah (03/03/2010 09:24:51)
    I agree with Dudley – apart from the fact that newspaper news is invariably more in depth anyway (you rarely get 300 word reports on one subject on the radio or TV) there are tonnes of on-the-day stories I would buy a newspaper for. One big example is Shannon Matthews being found.

    Clem (03/03/2010 11:46:05)
    I don’t think late deadlines have anything to do with the success of the express and star, dudley. Dozens of stories a page, strong editionising and keeping local to the patch are more important than the ability to break news in print at the same time people can consume it, for free, everywhere else. That’s probably why the Express and Star started from a stronger sales figure when
    the declines kicked in, which was at a time when most evening newspapers had late print slots. Journalists love the idea of ripping up the paper to get a late story in, but unless it’s something no-one else has, do readers really care? No, because they’ll probably have heard the news elsewhere anyway.

    Onlooker (03/03/2010 11:50:43)
    When the Standard sticks to news, it’s fine. Last night it launched a God-awful front page campaign to ‘eradicate poverty in London’, headed by Prince William. Worthy, dull, and unachievable, spread over far too many pages and featuring a hang-wringing feature about an immigrant woman who wants our sympathy after becoming more poor by dint of having her own tribe of several babies. Perhaps she can go and live with Prince William was my own uncharitable first thought.

    Steve Dyson (03/03/2010 12:09:56)
    Thanks to all for the input so far. You sound like an MD who backed overnight, ‘Clem’! I was keen to concentrate on the Standard review, but I guess I asked for a mini debate on overnight. As said, more on that another day. What I would say, though, is that live news can be an important factor for daily newspapers, especially in major, metropolitan cities. It’s not just the splash, but the diet of live news that readers enjoyed (sports news first thing when managers go, or stars come; full race card services; that day’s courts, sport and council). You’re right that it’s not the only thing that matters, and for those papers that have gone overnight they now have to concentrate heavily on those other areas… off-diary exclusives, in-depth local reports, etc. That’s the way nit is now for them. But for those papers that have retained live, I would commend them and advise them to maintain this. Yes, going overnight will save millions on vans as you can load the papers onto the back of WH Smith vehicles to be distributed with the nationals. But short term profit at the expense of taking away something from readers is not necessarily the answer for all. (Not just the Express and Star, by the way, but even small – and well performing – papers like the evenings in Jersey and Guernsey are ‘live’). Thanks again for the feedback all.

    Colin (03/03/2010 17:11:16)
    If on day live news is what the reader wants, how do you explain the circulation figures for the Birmingham Mail as an on-day, live newspaper?



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