26 November 2014

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Dyson at Large: A Jack Russell on ice please

This week’s review includes my favourite local splash since this blog began back in January 2010.

All journalists, of course, have slight variations on what they feel is the most important ingredient for news stories.

“Tell the buggers something they don’t know,” according to Manchester Evening News editor Maria McGeoghan, speaking at the Society of Editor’s Conference in Glasgow last November.

“Give it the granny test – something that would even catch her distracted attention,” was the way former Wales on Sunday and South Wales Echo editor Robin Fletcher described it.

“Something you’d look forward to telling your mates down the pub,” was the reliable adage various old hacks told me in my early days.

Or, put more bluntly by Roger Borrell in his time as editor of the Birmingham Evening Mail: “Find the ‘f**k me, Doris!’ reaction it will evoke from readers.”

And it’s that last shock measure that would have scored ten out of ten for the Boston Standard’s fantastic splash headline on Wednesday 30 March 2011: ‘DOG FOUND IN SHOP FREEZER’.

‘Just have a butcher’s at this’ was the great, openly exploitative over-line for the story that would have plucked the heart-strings of all dog lovers… and made the rest of us laugh out loud.

“A pet pooch has been found in a Boston butcher’s shop freezer,” read the perfect, tell-it-as-it-is, 12-word intro.

In summary, the dog-loving butcher had carefully wrapped his Jack Russell in a blanket and bizarrely placed it in a box inside his meat freezer to await burial.

“The pet posed no risk to public health,” according to a statement from the local borough council – before revealing they had destroyed all other contents of the freezer and issued a formal caution to the butcher, who immediately ceased trading.

Not only did this story grab the whole town’s attention – as well as appearing in The Sun, Daily Mirror and Metro the next day – but it also managed to kill an ugly, false Facebook rumour that a Chinese restaurant had been closed after the dead dog was found in its freezer.

‘Standard helps to hush Chinese whispers’ was the follow up story the next week, with Wei Xian Peng, of the Zhu Guang Chinese restaurant, saying: “Thank you very much for your help. I hope this rumour will end now.”

Before we move off the front, I must say I thought the splash could have dominated more space… somehow that ‘free gingerbread’ image looked slightly odd lying across the top.

But what else could they have splashed on if the dead dog had not been found in the butcher’s freezer? Plenty, it seems, including:

• ‘Policeman stole cannabis from evidence storeroom’, a 12-par kicker holding up page three, including the name, age, address and intricate details of the case;

• ‘Murder victim mum speaks out’ leading page three, an emotive chat about the quality of NHS care after a mental health patient stabbed his girlfriend to death;

• ‘Sexual assault nurse struck from profession’ leading page five, a male nurse assaulting stroke victims at Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital; and

• ‘Appeal after late wife’s jewellery stolen in raid’ leading page seven, with appropriately sad pictures of hubbie and six-year-old daughter.

Strongish page leads continued until page 14, but there were then too many ad features to flick through, and they were far too mixed up with light, albeit genuine, lifestyle features for my liking from pages 15 to 38.

Weekly paid-fors like the Standard need to maintain consistency throughout the book, especially when they have free competition biting at their heels.

The opposing Boston Target does this fairly well for a mass freebie, although on 30 March it dismally failed to recognise the strength of the ‘dog in the freezer’ story, wasting it as a page one brief. [

It did, however, splash on that murder follow up, and had fairly strong leads up to page 21 – although some of these were Lincolnshire-wide as opposed to Boston specific.

The Target’s Boston edition leans quite heavily on its daily sister, the Lincolnshire Echo, and the latter provided the content for a regional but quality 18-page business section.

All this, and the fact that the Target carried chunky property and motors sections, should be keeping the Standard on its toes.

With a cover price of 50p, the Standard’s 88-pages contained 127 stories and a page of detailed local listings in 30 news and features pages, and an impressive 83 reports on nine sports pages.

The Target, almost all free circulation but with a handful sold at 45p, had 136 pages if you counted the business, property and motors pull-outs.

There were 75 stories and three pages of listings in 21 news and features pages, with another 33 reports on five pages of sport – although if you added 64 Echo-originated business stories the Target came close to competing on quantity.

The Johnston Press-owned Standard sold an average of 8,756 a week between July and December 2010 according to the latest ABCs, down 12.6pc year on year, against 20,331 mainly given away by the Northcliffe-owned Target in the same period, down 17.4pc.

All of which makes quite a job for the forthcoming new editor of the Standard: a good hard news area and skilled staff who can spot a story, but with a double percentage figure decline and a decent free weekly biting at its heels.

* A hat-tip to my old news hound colleague Robin Jones, who joyfully emailed me a snap of the Standard’s splash – triggering me to head east to cover the Boston media scene.



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