23 October 2014

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Dyson at Large: The daily enemy within

Don’t you just hate it when you get on a local train in an urban area and watch scores of people anaesthetized by the daily Metro in your carriage?

Like a scene from Shaun of the Dead, they thumb through the paper at the same speed, giving each page a maximum of 20 seconds attention, most chucking it down after five minutes.

I can honestly say that I’ve never witnessed anybody getting inspired by the paper. Indeed, the majority I’ve people-watched appear more dulled after their diet of undemanding digests.

I know that some media analysts will tell us how great it is to have seen the readership for this ‘national’ title to have grown despite the digital era.

“It’s helped form a new generation of youthful newspaper readers,” is a paraphrase of many industry watchers over recent years.

But have you actually sat down and assessed the mundane content of this commercially-focused title?

‘Harmless,’ I hear you say? Yes, but it’s dangerously easy.

Take the edition from last Friday, July 16, when ‘Holy cow!’ was the ‘splash’ headline, although the designer almost admitted it wasn’t worthy of leading page one by filling just two of five columns.

“Police shot a runaway cow 12 times in a bungled attempt to kill it…” read the first half of the intro that immediately lost my interest. So what?

Also on page one was the lacklustre headline ‘My Preciousss Tome’, an unchallenging boost for the sales of Peter Mandelson’s memoirs, a routine picture of him smiling and holding his book taking up the same space as the ‘splash’.

On the same day, paid-for nationals led on a variety of more significant topics, to name just three: the Raoul Moat Facebook controversy; Vince Cable’s threat of a new graduate tax; and BP’s progress at stopping oil spewing from its well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Paid-for regional dailies chose their own dramas, with the successful or failed outcomes of the battle for the 2013 City of Culture making the splashes for four of them in Belfast, Birmingham, Norwich and Sheffield.

But while they considered whether or not to buy another paper, millions of commuters in 16 of Britain’s cities were first deadened by the dreary content of the daily Metro.

If you flicked to page three, you found ‘The Ex Factor, Corrie Style’, the entire space filled with a picture lead package on the sale of the ashes of Coronation Street cat Frisky. The other stories that took up the most Metro space on July 16 included:

  • ‘That’s all folks as Ross says farewell to Beeb’ on page 7, a picture lead on Jonathan Ross’ BBC exit that evening;

  • ‘The flight fantastic’ filling pages 12 and 13, highlighting photographs that “capture the spectacular, the funny and the moving reality of Navy life”, (God bless the sailors, but the snaps selected were not that interesting); and

  • ‘Britain embraces cosmic vision’ on pages 22 and 23, a magazine style graphic with 13 entry points on space exploration. Repetitive encyclopaedic stuff.

    Yes, the Metro did carry news in between these colourful displays: graduate tax made a squished lead on page four; low crime levels led page five; and the Moat Facebook story led page nine.

    But these real stories were ten pars or less, and none with any analysis. As snippets of the main news of the day, they arguably removed the desire to invest in in-depth journalism provided by paid-for newspapers .

    And while little news mirrored that in the regionals, the Metro carried content that made the purchase of a local paper less likely: detailed weather maps on page two; the forthcoming weekend’s film guides on page 34 and 35; TV reviews and listings on pages 38, 39 and 40; a puzzles digest on page 41; overnight FTSE movements on page 43; four pages of Golf Open reports and detailed first-round scores on pages 60 to 64.

    In truth, despite my biased tirade against its quality, the Metro provides what many describe as a ‘good enough’ précis of news and information not to need to buy another newspaper.

    Which is exactly my point.

    When paid-for circulations are scarily dipping, now is the time to question the existence of the daily Metro, which numbs the commuting public into shunning paid-for regionals and nationals.

    Especially when that Metro is owned by partnerships of groups who run regional titles in the various cities it’s distributed, and nationals in the case of Associated Newspapers and Trinity Mirror.

    After launching in Britain 11 years ago, it took four years before the Metro broke even. And though it now boasts of seven consecutive years of profit, those who have seen the figures know they are miniscule, teetering on the edge for the last two years.

    In the same article linked to above, The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade even comments on the “Metro’s willingness to transform itself for the sake of an advertising campaign, often with a wraparound cover devoted to a new product.”

    Greenslade continues that “certain sections are sponsored by a brand, and advertisers can even ask the paper’s editorial team to help write advertising content”.

    Is this what we want newspapers to morph into? And why is the industry continuing to shoot itself in the foot with a daily enemy within?

    I think we should be told.

    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

    Metro Politan (21/07/2010 09:08:52)
    On your point about the news stories only containing 10 pars or less – isn’t this a deliberate ploy by the Metro to provide the reader with all the important news even if they are only reading the paper for 10 minutes?
    The 60-second interview was always a good laugh and its listings guide was pretty comprehensive. Greenslade’s point about the Metro showing willingness to transform itself for the sake of an advertising campaign is par for the course on freesheets. Although I do remember the Daily Mirror being printed on blue paper with a wraparound cover to celebrate the launch of the new style of Pepsi in 1996.

    Mr Tom (21/07/2010 10:20:11)
    “Don’t you just hate it when you get on a local train in an urban area and watch scores of people anaesthetized by the daily Metro…” read the first half of the intro that immediately lost my interest. So what?

    Hengist Pod (21/07/2010 10:22:05)
    When it had a team of regional arts/entertainments/leisure writers it was genuinely good, if only from a ‘what to do’ perspective but it’s gone seriously downhill since they got rid of them. However during the occasional time I get a train I still look to find one – though my 12-15 minute journey is more than enough time to read everything I want.

    Onlooker (21/07/2010 10:37:56)
    Massive assumption here about readers being dulled and nobody being inspired. Evidence?

    Steve Dyson (21/07/2010 11:03:10)
    I know what you mean, Onlooker; it’s my opinion from watching people unexcited at what they read (whereas I have seen people transfixed, laughing out loud or showing friend’s something they’ve read in paid-for papers). So evidence is anecdotal; but when was the last time the media led on a story or issue broken by the Metro? And
    yes, Metro Politan and Hengist Pod, it fulfils the summary role intended by the publishers… but at what cost to the newspaper industry? And for what profit?

    Derry (21/07/2010 11:51:58)
    Weren’t they launched to keep the Swedish Metro at bay? Maybe it’s better to have a Metro which at least the existing papers make bit of money from, rather than another new rival?

    Steve Dyson (21/07/2010 14:40:07)
    Good point, Derry, that was the original reason. But I’ve heard that those Scandinavian models have since ceased… So can’t we put our Metro on ice?

    Newt (21/07/2010 14:56:11)
    The problem of Metro easily replacing national and regional newspapers is valid, most of my friends refer to stories they have seen in the Metro but I rarely hear any of them talking about other newspaper, particularly regional ones. It is a concern, but completely understandable. The Metro is free, you don’t need to go anywhere to get hold of a copy except where you were already going and its bitesize reports and pictures make it almost comic book-like in terms of an easy read. It’s difficult for other titles to compete, the only way of doing so is providing better coverage and copy than the Metro – and promoting that offering so people know its an available alternative. My Metro pet hate is the ‘quirky’ stories on page 3, while this is something which I think works wonders when done right, most of the page 3 content of the Metro is scraping-the-barrel forced and very dull.
    On a completely different point, Steve, review some more weekly titles!

    Melody Makepeace (21/07/2010 15:48:15)
    The reason a lot of people like Metro is that is places a high premium on fun – as does The Sun, the UK’s best-selling daily paid-for. Metro’s going out sections are high quality and well-written, and the book and film reviews are also good. It might be nice to imagine that everyone is extremely serious and turns to newspapers to learn serious things – but often, and especially on the way to work, they just want to read about things that will cheer them up. They can then be educated and depressed by the evening news.

    Newt (21/07/2010 16:42:03)
    Oops, apologies for the its when it should have been it’s – that’s what you get when you’re in a rush!



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