1 November 2014

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Dyson at Large: Bright future for strong weekly

When last in Cornwall I blogged on the cat-killing Cornish Guardian, a 176-page tome that thrilled me with its story-count.

A year later the Easter sunshine drew me back, and this time I was flabbergasted at the size of the West Briton – and at the giant pasty I munched while reading it over a pint of St Austell’s Tribute ale.

For just 85 pence I was treated to two hundred and sixteen pages – a main book of 120 pages, a 52-page FindaProperty.com section and a 44-page Motors.co.uk pull-out.

On 14 April there were more than 270 reports on 46 news pages, another 61 stories on 17 features pages and at least 80 tales plus two packed results spreads on 14 sports pages.

I was truly engrossed in the local detail, the quaint story-telling and the rich community feel of this weekly paper that felt to me like it had a very long life ahead of it.

There were several stories that could have made the splash and, while I didn’t think the choice in the Truro & Mid Cornwall edition was the best, it was an interesting enough read.

‘Maths wizard Josh starts his second degree at age of 19’ was the headline, reporting the progress of a local maths prodigy who went to Bath University aged 16 and was now heading to Cambridge for his Masters.

The page one picture worked for me, a cheeky five-year-old drawing readers in to find out about the countless operations he faced over the next 11 years after nearly losing his life to meningitis.

And I liked the end leg of six, tightly-crafted write-offs that gave the paper a busy page one feel that continued throughout.

My favourite tale in the weekly – and hopefully one that made the splash in the Falmouth and Penryn edition – was the lead on page six: ‘Ten people banned for life from every pub in Falmouth’.

The troublesome ten were among 52 people who had been banned from every pub in the town for various terms under the Pubwatch scheme, and would have made a great talking point.

My only disappointment was that none of the offenders were named, and this was surely a missed opportunity.

Other tales that caught my eye in the West Briton included:

• ‘We are hopeful stolen chickens are still alive’ leading page three, a different tale about fowl missing from a homeless charity that I think I liked for its headline alone;

• ‘Farce as council’s promise of bus shelters is forgotten’ leading page five, with a great picture posed by 28 locals from Wheal Kitty, St Agnes –  although this would have been better if packaged with the page four story about a bus firm’s £65k fine for failing to stick to timetables;

• ‘Developer jumps the gun with illegal felling of trees’ leading page eight; and

• ‘20p car parking among £15k in MPs’ expenses’ leading page 39 – which again would have been  better if packaged with ‘MP can’t afford to buy house’ on page six and ‘£32,383 was golden goodbye for former MP’ on page 2.

Two pages of fascinating ‘Down your way’ village reports were nicely positioned in the front end on pages 24 and 25, not buried away in the back-end as is too often the case.

This covered everything from a graphic history talk about amputations and burns on a Falklands War hospital ship the speaker had served on, to songs sung at Perranporth’s Good Companions Club that included the ditty ‘Nothing Can Take The Place Of A Nice Little Bit Of Fish’!

Maybe it’s just me, but I also enjoyed the intriguing ‘Harbour Talk’ section that took up most of page 26, this being just one example of more than 100 ship movements reported: “Monday April 11, Porthoustock: Cape Blossom, a Norwegian-owned reefer, arrived for bunkers in the afternoon. She had loaded bananas at Puerto Bolivar, Ecuador, for St Petersburg, Russia.”

It reminded me of one of my favourite modern novels, The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, when Quoyle, a journeyman reporter in Newfoundland, is given the job of documenting the local port’s arrivals and departures, finally developing admired articles on boats of interest in the harbour.

We used to list ‘Shipping Movements’ in a simple column when I edited the Evening Gazette, Teesside, but the West Briton’s colourful section made me regret I hadn’t made more of the potential copy there was in the global origins, destinations and reasons for ships’ meanderings.

Another mini-section I liked was ‘Pets seeking pads’ on page 32… don’t get me wrong, I can’t abide furry things myself, but I know many readers’ heartstrings would have been plucked by the tales of destitute tabbies.

Next came three pages packed with earnest readers’ letters on pages 40, 41 and 42, which is always the sign of a healthy paper, and then two pages of in-depth ‘Obituaries’ on pages 46 and 47.

And I just loved the ’50 things to do in Cornwall before you die’ series that started on pages 48 and 49, and which the West Briton plans to send a reporter to experience first-hand during the next year.

Foraging for edible seaweed, learning to surf and building a Cornish hedge all took my fancy, but not half as much as sampling Cornish Rattler at Healey’s Cyder Farm. What a great idea for a features series, something that could be transferred to any locality.

I could on and on – there were interesting sections throughout the paper – but I should perhaps end on sport, a full and varied section that seemed to cover every pursuit, including results and league tables on pigeon racing and euchre.

But just what was it with the celebratory Fez hats employed by Truro City FC fans following their 90th minute goal in an away win at Chippenham Town? (Answers on a comment posting, please.)

So I think you can count me as a fan of the West Briton, and pleased to find that it still boasts four geographical editions to best-serve local audiences.

Founded in 1810, the Truro-based paper is part of Northcliffe’s Cornwall & Devon Media Group, and in the latest ABCs lost just 0.2 pc of its circulation, its 35,080 copies a week retaining its position as the county’s largest paid-for newspaper.



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