23 April 2014

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Dyson at Large – Cleaning up on the mess of life

I laughed out loud at the blog by ex-Swindon Advertiser editor Dave King, reported by HTFP earlier this week.

Not just at the self-deprecating accuracy of his “toilet roll” description of how an editor sometimes feels, but also at the warm reference to his team of journalists.

"An incredible Addams Family set of characters… my day often depended on their whims and moods," King lamented.

Yes, we are an odd bunch, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one chuckling at the Addams Family members we’ve met across the industry in the last 20-odd years. Imagine former Newcastle Chronicle editor Alison Hastings as Morticia, soon-to-be-departing Teesside chief photographer Doug Moody as Lurch and Hull Daily Mail editor John Meehan as Uncle Fester and I think you’ll see what I mean.

King’s full blog is worth reading not only to put his playful comments into context but also to see from his 27 June posting that his reported “family reasons” for leaving Swindon are a lot more pertinent than many of us have to deal with.

And while his family must understandably have been a pull, the real truth according to Advertiser insiders was that King “resigned on principle” because he disagreed with the strategy of moving production to Oxford and the resulting bleed of experienced, quality staff.

No-one, of course, is irreplaceable, and I’m sure King – whom I’ve never met but feel I’ve got to know through his blog – is pleased to see that new editor Gary Lawrence is continuing to clean up the mess of life that comes the Swindon Advertiser’s way.

‘WOMAN KILLED IN CAR SMASH ON DANGER ROAD’ was the splash on Wednesday 15 June, with strong boost headlines ‘SCHOOL’S TRIBUTE TO TRAGIC PUPIL’ and ‘JOBS TO GO AT SWINDON COLLEGE’.


The car smash had happened at 6pm on Monday and the Advertiser efficiently had the victim “named locally” in time for overnight deadlines the next day with a detailed 16-par story on page two.

My only quibble was with the need to write off such a story on page one when it appeared in full overleaf anyway. What’s wrong with turning the story and taking readers with you on a cliff-hanging paragraph?

The school tribute was another example of the Advertiser being switched on to breaking news, a letter to parents on the Monday about the tragedy becoming the ‘PUPILS SHOCKED BY SUDDEN DEATH’ page five lead by Wednesday.

As for the college redundancies, I liked the way the Advertiser used a smiling stock picture of the principal with the ‘COLLEGE PREPARES TO MAKE JOB CUTS’ story on page seven.

This once again underlines the reason for going to all official picture opportunities of self-satisfied folk in power. Those straight up and down “say cheese” shots almost always become really useful years later.

All three were smack-in-the-face stories told straight, with little worry about light and shade on the important page one shop window that needs to sell hard news the way readers want it.

The Advertiser team was careful to inject a little humour and achievement inside with the picture-lead ‘WHOOPS! COUNCIL FELLS WRONG TREE’ on page three and a lovely snap of 17 adults and children headlined ‘Staff give pre-school playground a fresh new look’ on page six.

Other highlights for me were ‘DEMOTED BASSETT SLAM THE FA’ in sport on page 35, and ‘ALAN ADDS TO THE GOALIE’S LEGEND’ in a Remember When feature on page 22.

The first referred to an in-depth interview with Wootton Bassett Town boss Chris Jones, frustrated at relegation from the Hellenic League Premier Division because of perceived ground deficiencies.

The latter was a lovely history piece reflecting on the life and career of Bert Trautmann, triggered by a local who collects signatures of goalies on an old-fashioned ‘caser’ football.

In a 36-page main book, the Advertiser had a slightly below-par score of 86 reports on 20 news and features pages, another 17 stories on five pages of sport, a spread of TV listings and a puzzles page.

But the Wednesday edition was made well worth the 40p cover price by doubling in size with a 36-page ‘THE HOME’ property section.

Published by Newsquest, the Swindon Advertiser sold an average of 18,287 a day in 2010 according to the latest ABCs, down -8.0 pc on 2009.

It would be interesting to know how much of this is down to the recession and accompanying cost-cuts which inevitably lead to editors taking their eyes off the ball.

For the record, the Advertiser put on sales in King’s first year in charge, recording a small but significant +0.4 pc in 2007, and was then one of the top ten daily performers in 2008 and 2009 with -5.0 pc and -4.7 pc falls respectively.   

In the declining period the industry has been through, those are figures to die for. My money is on King landing a top job somewhere progressive in the near future.

7 Comments

  1. Swindon Islander

    The comments from ‘ex Adver’ and ‘Guest’ are a little unfair in my opinion.

    They are, of course, entitled to their views, though they sound to me to be pretty embittered. My own view is that Dave was a decent man who taught, nurtured and did good things here. He DID get too taken up with management upstairs and dealing with cuts… but then that’s what his blog is saying and that’s why he left.

    What I like about Dyson’s review is that he chose an edition from shortly after Dave’s departure, and one that still had Dave’s style all over it.

    And yes – Mark Waldron WAS a good editor, and I’m sure Gary Lawrence might end up also doing well. But Dave’s record was not half bad, and I don’t think many staff saw how hard he had to fight – not always winning – to protect their jobs.

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  2. Guest

    Seriously Steve, can’t imagine who your inside source is if it’s not the King himself.
    Word on most current and recently departed staff’s lips is that Dave, having been borderline incompetent since his start at the Adver, jumped very shortly before he was pushed.
    To glorify his long awaited exit as some kind of “standing up for the troops” is insulting to all those who lived through his spineless inability to even leave his office on days when cuts / non replacements were announced.
    True the Adver was a great paper and still has some of that – but that’s down to the last remaining dregs of the pre-king era. And sadly most people with any talent or enthusiasm started leaving as soon as he arrived.

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  3. anxious hack

    ….anybody who thinks there’s a future in local newspapers, read this extract from Steve Dyson’s piece. Then read it again. We’re doomed.

    ”….was then one of the top ten daily performers in 2008 and 2009 with -5.0 pc and -4.7 pc falls respectively.”

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  4. ex Adver

    Let’s have some home truths, shall we. I worked at the Advertiser for several years. The paper put on sales during his first year in charge thanks to the previous editor’s hard work, not Dave King’s approach. I have no particular grumble with Dave but this article completely misrepresents his contribution and makes him out to be a far better editor than he actually was. Those of us who were actually there during his time in charge will tell a very different story about his methods, management style and ideas. And the reasons for him leaving? Come on, Steve, you’re a journalist: actually find out the truth rather than what one source tells you.

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  5. Guest

    I have to agree with ex Adver when (s)he says: “The paper put on sales during his first year in charge thanks to the previous editor’s hard work, not Dave King’s approach.” Dave didn’t join the Adver until October 2007. The paper was award winning largely down to the previous editor Mark Waldron and a dedicated news team lead by an enthusiastic news editor and his deputy. Those faces soon changed. I wish Dave well and hope he finds happiness outside the newsroom but as we all know in journalism there are always at least two sides to a story.

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  6. Another ex-adver

    As a previous employee during Dave’s reign I have to agree with the comments from those who have spoken from experience rather than spin. The only “source” at the Adver who would say Dave resigned on principle is the man himself, or someone whose sarcasm wasn’t picked up.
    Dave had some strengths as an editor but supporting his staff was never one. Witness the rapid exit of three news editors in under a year as an example of that. Despite his constant promise that his door was always open, there was generally little support to be found inside that office.
    The quality of the Adver has dipped noticeably during his reign with hard news and investigation giving way to a succession of ill-thought out campaigns and splashes dictated by the editor’s whim rather than any real news sense. In direct parallel the number of pictures of the editor in the paper rocketed culminating at 7 in a single edition to my recollection. All of this was a constant source of frustration for his staff.
    It may not seem like it but I too wish Dave well. He’s a nice enough chap but the wrong man for the job. What has prompted me to comment is this wholly inaccurate portrayal of him as a shining example of what an editor should be. If that is true then newspapers are in a worse state than I thought.

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  7. Chris Dixon

    Couldn’t disagree more. This page is laid out in dreadful fashion.
    Where’s the front page picture?
    It looks like the woman in the ad across the bottom is the crash victim.
    As for the blurb, who wants to see a picture of a staid college building there when we’re talking about people’s jobs and livelihoods?
    And the red line underneath the blurb doesn’t go all the way across making it look disjointed and as though the wob headline to the right was dropped on by a five-year-old.
    I’m trusting the rest of the paper is great – unfortunatley given this front page, there’s no way I’d buy it to find out.

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