30 September 2014

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Dyson at Large: Who won the battle of Birmingham?

Let’s get straight down to brass tacks: the Birmingham Post Lite beat The Birmingham Press in the launch week of the city’s weekly newspaper war. But only just.

One of the most important clashes is always the front page, and here the Press went narrowly ahead.

Masthead presence: A clear Press win, the word ‘Press’ printed substantially in black, projecting the title much better than the tiny ‘Lite’ at the tail-end of a stretched ‘Birmingham Post.’ 1-0 the Press.

Splash headline: Another Press victory, its ‘Rebirth of region’s serious crime squad’ a far more interesting teaser than the Lite’s ‘Edgbaston food haven on menu.’ 2-0 the Press.

Splash content: A point each. Once you were into the Lite’s detailed report on a new food destination, it equalled the Press’s decent crime squad exclusive for interest (the latter worthy of note but all centred on a single fact). 3-1 the Press.

Design: The Lite triumphs, with a clear pattern, a strong welcome, a substantial boost to Property and two decent news write-offs as well as the splash; the Press was clunky, with two of its text-heavy boosts obliterating weak pictures, and an unpleasant shot of three blokes’ smelly feet the only other ‘news’ carried. 3-2 the Press.

After this initial and important victory, entrepreneur Chris Bullivant’s Press continued to steam ahead with its front-end and centre sections pulled together by the skilled but sole hands of editor Tony Lennox.

Main book pagination: The Press’s 64-pages beat 56-pages in the Lite. 4-2 the Press.

Front-end story count, including news, business, lifestyle and entertainment: 102 in the Press, 80 in the Lite. 5-2 the Press. But one man can only do so much, and Lennox’s remarkable feat was overshadowed by the quality in Trinity Mirror’s Lite, an operation headed by editor Alun Thorne but with multiple full-time reporters and news editors drafted in from the joint desk already serving its paid-for sisters, the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail and Sunday Mercury.

News quality: The Lite wins here, with real local stories serving the suburbs the paper is sent to including ‘Row as trees axed at £12m baths site’ on page two (Harborne), ‘Rivals in a spin for hotseat of Edgbaston’ on pages six and seven and ‘Anger over CCTV posts’ (Moseley) on page 9. The Press’s best offerings to compare were ‘Countdown to launch for Birmingham’s QE2′ (new hospital at Edgbaston) on page eight and ‘Joy’s lottery legacy at Moseley bog’ on page 12, but too many of the Press’s other news stories were either generalist or press release fodder. 5-3 the Press.

Picture quality: An easy conquest for the Lite, equipped as it is with photographers and a picture desk versus the Press’s sent-ins and laptop processing. 5-4 the Press.

Overall front-end writing quality: Quite a skirmish here, with the Press recruiting a league of former Birmingham Post journalists who’d left in the last ten years, and none who had forgotten how to craft a tale. Stalwarts included Ros Dodd, Jenni Ameghino, Jayne Howarth, John Duckers and Nevill Boyd Mansell. Their contributions were good, but disparate and disorganised. The Lite did not hold back on resource, pitching in the likes of editor Alun Thorne himself, as well as experienced reporters Jane Tyler, Paul Dale, Jasbir Authi, Richard McComb, Christina Savvas, Catherine Lillington, Kat Keogh and others. This volume and the structure added by good news-desking gave the Lite the edge. 5-5 and drawing.

Property: This is the crucial one, as the advertising that makes the new Press and old Post sink or swim comes from this sector, and so two points will be awarded here. Now it’s early days, but the Lite’s 72-pages and 703 individual property adverts easily squashes the Press’s 64-pages and 180 adverts, even if the latter’s space was ably filled by some good property features from former Post writer Marsya Lennox. 7-5 the Lite.

Sport: In an interesting editorial own-goal, the Lite sold the whole of the back page to a furniture store, so the Press stood out straight away with its Gary Alliss golf exclusive. This was written by Fraser Thomson, former Post sports editor, now drafted in to mastermind the Press’s sports section. And the boy did well, corralling 35 quality stories on 16 pages, fine contributions from the redoubtable former Post cricket writer George Dobell, from former Blues captain Ian Clarkson and ex-Villa impresario Dave Ismay. While the Lite provided 19 sound reports from the Post and Mail’s Colin Tattum, Mat Kendrick et al on eight pages, this effort was easily beaten by the Press taking sport so seriously. 7-6 the Lite.

So there we have it. Despite a late rally in sport, it was a narrow but definite 7-6 victory in week one to the Lite.

But as in any war, there is more than one battle. And for the sake of my former colleagues at the Post and Mail, I hope that my concerns at what I consider to be a mistaken strategy by Trinity Mirror are ill-founded.

Because if all that effort, concentration and resource needed to produce the Lite continues for too long, it will only be to the detrimental dilution of the company’s paid-for products, especially as regards the delicately financed paid-for Birmingham Post and the already-stretched staffing on the Birmingham Mail.

I maintain that a much better approach would have been to beef up these paid-for products, perhaps following Bullivant’s lead and sprinkling a few thousand introductory Posts to undermine the Press’s marketing.

As it is, the Lite is an extra effort and cost to the business, but only competes with the Press by blocking residents’ letterboxes – leaving a depleted paid-for Post to fight for purchases with the Press on newsstands.

And however pleased the Lite is to have outshone the Press in week one, remember that it is just that, and Lennox will be improving his young product week-by-week.

Finally, I have one final word of advice for the journalists involved on all the above-mentioned products. Compete with drive and enthusiasm and continue to dash to beat each other to the best tales. But try to avoid too much of the bitterness that is currently flying about.

Already we have former Post columnists sent to Coventry by remaining staff for jovially poking fun at ex-colleagues, a row that started when blogger John Duckers referred to the Post Lite as the Post ‘Shite’ before it was even printed.

I’ve spoken to Duckers and, because of the offence caused, he regrets he went too far and has deleted the wayward post. But come on, guys and gals, www.duckersanddiving.co.uk is meant to be caustic, and we all love to laugh when it’s cutting about everyone else.

I mention this only as an example of how friends could be lost for the wrong reason. The likes of Duckers and many other Press contributors I’ve spoken to were, remember, discarded by the Post and Mail, and they have every right to happily contribute to write for a new publication that is welcoming and paying for their scripts.

None of the troops deserve to be cast out as treacherous. Save that for Generals Bailey and Bullivant, and keep them on their toes to properly back quality products in Birmingham.

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

    Reynard (28/04/2010 09:55:59)
    Well said Steve, being bitter with each other or even one’s former employer is a fuitless and self destructive emotion. Believe me I’ve tried it !
    All credit to Tony, Chris and the team for having a go.
    I have always found a deap contradiction within most journalistic souls that they support competition but don’t really want it.

    Johnboy (28/04/2010 09:56:37)
    Steve, I think perhaps you saved the most important point to the end. At the end of the day, each paper is written by journalists just trying to make a living. There shouldn’t be the need for such bitterness but when Bullivant insists on writing a vitriolic rant about the Mail, the Post and the Sutton Coldfield News on page 2 of his first edition, it’s not surprising that people get upset. It appears to be a bitterness towards the Post and Mail which drives Bullivant on, and it’s very sad to see someone as time-served as him taking pot shots at a rival newspaper, especially with his track record

    steve pain (28/04/2010 10:38:46)
    Get your facts right Steve – they left the papers through their own choice because of editors like yourself. Duckers, despite his faults, was not a columinist. He was the Business Editor – and a bloody good one at that.

    Paul (28/04/2010 10:40:19)
    No mention of the Post’s goof on the front page story about Paul Robinson, who is not the Albion keeper?

    Old regional press hand (28/04/2010 10:43:55)
    …or the fact that the thumbnail picture caption in the splash referred to Chris Mullins, rather than Chris Mullin?

    Steve Dyson (28/04/2010 10:47:05)
    Paul and Old Regional Press Hand: Good spots lads… though to be fair with it being a former West Brom player not many of us really noticed (apologies to Chris Lepkowski!). Mullin was poor though.

    StevieG (28/04/2010 10:47:37)
    Paul, you mean the Birmingham PRESS blunder re the Albion keeper, not the Birmingham Post.

    Hengist Pod (28/04/2010 10:57:46)
    Agree with quite a bit of your analysis Steve. I think overall, despite having depleted staffing levels, the overall quality of Trinity Mirror’s Post Lite set it apart. Both Chris B and Tony L are experts when it comes to doing things on the cheap and the problem with the Press is that it shows – from mistakes to fairly irrelevant regional stories and rehashed press releases – it has the look and feel of a bit of a mish-mash that was just chucked together. This would seem to be at odds with Mr B’s pledge to create a quality product. I really can’t see people paying for it, unless it’s out of curiosity – then again it could always get better.

    Onlooker (28/04/2010 12:41:27)
    Just what is the impact going to be on the long-term mental and physical health of Birmingham Post & Mail staff having to take on an extra publication?

    Oooh Arthur (28/04/2010 13:30:48)
    I have no axe to grind with Mr Bullivant, but after reading his introduction for his newspaper, I can only conclude that he is a man suffering from ‘spurned lover’ syndrome.
    It’s well known that he made a play for the Post and Mail many years back, since being knocked back he’s obsessed on their business and dealings like a bulldog round a pork chop.
    The only winners in this unseemingly contest are the advertisers, who are collectively guffawing up their sleeves.

    disillusioned (28/04/2010 13:42:52)
    A quality paper for Birmingham Bullivant said, seems like that was forgotten as soon as page 3 which had a Coventry lead, and Warwick Castle pic caption and an as geographically irrelevant piece of DP? Much of the rest of the paper was filled with the types of stories/features you can normally expected to read in one of his Bullivant media titles on a bank holiday when the underpaid and already threadbare staff have to fill a paper with one day less to work with – no chance of anyone working a bank hol at BM, most are barely paid a fair wage for normal working days. Here’s to yet another year with no pay rise…..!

    Steve Dyson (28/04/2010 14:28:57)
    A mixture of really good feedback and comment here, thank you. To me the Bullivant invasion is a good thing if for one reason: it concentrates the minds of Trinity Mirror at the highest, Canary Wharf, level, and will perhaps help the local managers withstand any more picking away at budgets, expecially now there is a little upturn in revenues. We all know plcs have to make profit and have to service shareholders’ dividend needs. But with competition from the north-west (Express & Star) and the south (Bullivant), Bailey and Co have to show they are serious about the Birmingham business by giving managers and editors and journalists chance to breathe. Don’t turn up the profit expectations TOO soon or else you’ll reduce The Fort to churnalism that competitors will find it easier to beat. While I’m always impressed by Tony Lennox’ ‘improvisations’, praise has to go to grassroots staff who’ve got the Post Lite out as an extra. Let’s just hope all realise they must retain enough puff for the paid-for products.

    Chris Youett (28/04/2010 16:13:44)
    The real issue for any controlled circulation titles that is aimed at the posh end of the market is finding kids who will deliver it to those leafy suburbs.
    I live in Earlsdon, the so-called Islington of the West Midlands. Many of us never see Chris Bullivant’s Coventry paper because (according to a former member of his staff) the local kids get too much pocket money, so
    don’t need the extra cash from doing a Friday paper round. I suspect Chris B will have the same problem in the Holy City.

    the red postman (28/04/2010 17:55:37)
    Hengist; if ‘thrown together’ means the ability to source good copy and pictures quickly (and often write the copy himself), then make the design sing (and not to a bloody template), then Fraser Thomson’s your man. Those of us who spent years watching him start writing a 900-word spread at 8.45 on a Friday night, then design it and have it out for subbing by 10pm when the deadline for the paper was 10.30 will tell you there’s no-one better in the Midlands newspaper business.

    davy gravy (29/04/2010 13:11:26)
    Since these are freebies the ad sales teams are the people who will decide the winner. Comapring journalism is all very well but lets not get carried away – the words here scarcely matter a jot; it’s the commercials who will decide whether these titles succeed.

    Oooh Arthur (29/04/2010 13:57:44)
    I haven’t seen this weeks edition of The Birmingham Press. Is Mr Bullivant still betraying his barely surpressed hatred towards Trinity Mirror?

    Hengist Pod (29/04/2010 14:38:49)
    Yes indeed Mr Bulli’rant’ had plenty to say about Trinity Mirror – lambasting the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail and sister weeklies the Solihull News and the Sutton Coldfield News

    steve pain (29/04/2010 17:32:46)
    Interesting to see so much comment from people who are hiding behind made up names.
    Easy to make critical comment when no-one knows who you are.
    Perhaps you should come out of the woodwork. Then your opionions might count for something.

    steve pain (29/04/2010 18:24:45)
    And before anyone asks, I’m cooking opionions for dinner tonight. Just before the big debate? on telly. I’m told the waft of fried PR gonads is quite similar.

    Observer (29/04/2010 18:56:56)
    Steve it doesn’t make a difference whether you use your name or not. Perhaps people using other names are directly involved so not wishing to rock the proverbial boat. I don’t want to get into politics of Press and Lite but if they are being judged as products the Press is a shambles. It has little continuity and looks like it has been subbed in the dark by many different hands.



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