17 September 2014

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Dyson at Large: Cluttered design kills content

I’m a big believer in the maxim ‘content is king’: thrilling exposes, earth-shattering exclusives and shocking comments will, 99 times out of 100, overcome dull designs.

But where do you turn on days when you have few of the above gems, when your news and pictures list verges on the pedestrian?

This is when the ‘pavement artist’ planner is needed – grabbing the best quotes for talky headers, dramatic cut-outs to catch the eye and meaningful cross-references to draw readers in.

The Liverpool Daily Post dismally failed to do any of this on Wednesday 16 February, its tame and jumbled lay-out making the paper feel insignificant.

The best story of the day was an interview with Lord Heseltine following Liverpool’s walk-out on the government’s ‘Big Society’ pathfinder project.

Yet the splash headline ‘Liverpool: Heseltine support for Cameron’ did little to excite, not helped by a tiny cut-out of a calm-looking Michael, the story clumsily stacked above a distracting write-off.

Why were designers not given time and licence to break out from such a meek template?

A gesticulating, Tarzan-style Hezza cut-out could have dominated page one, emblazoned with a “Liverpool is a cross we have to bear” quote headline, engrossing and enraging readers.

As it was, the splash did little to sell the Post, and more than half the rest of the front page had little meaning for its intelligent readers.

‘Brits date for ex-kitten McClarnon’ was unattractively headlined across Liz’s skirt, cross-referred to a picture package lead on page eight that didn’t mention the pop star again.

Yes, she’s Liverpool-born, arguably a good face to localise the Brits, but not if you fail to carry that through to the story, not explaining what she was doing on page one.

The main left-hand boost was a great example of why you should only rarely flag up columnists when they stun you with thought-provoking copy.

The main subject was a rainy-day sci-fi meander that the page 19 sub struggled to headline: ‘Twitter tsar to boost morale for austerity cuts survivors’. Reinterpreting this muddle as ‘There’ll be no journalists after the Apocalypse’ became a cringing page one tease.

The strap boost above the masthead was clearer, although it used too tiny an image of the business pull-out and repeated the only readable headline about the Lambrini boss’s £10m dividend.

The two small sports boosts were fine, if contrary: from the sublime ‘LFC teenage goalscoring phenomenon poised for Euro tie’ to the ridiculous ‘Ruthless Rovers score three to clip Owl’s wings’.

But whose idea was it to use orange subject headers? The randomly placed ‘columnist’, ‘arts’, ‘politics’, ‘regional’ ‘sport’ and ‘contents’ added little to page one.

Design idiosyncrasies continued with an annoying tendency to squeeze headlines onto pictures again on various inside pages, resulting in cramped lay-outs like this on page six.

One firm style decision was ‘no borders on main pictures’ which worked for dark images, but looked like a needless cut-out because of a white background on page five.

A less-firm decision was a frame-style half border around secondary pictures; I say ‘less-firm’ because this happened on pages two, three, six, 12, 16, 17 and 10 of the ‘Business’ pull-out, but not on eight, 14, or nine of ‘Business’, nor on 11 where it instead appeared on the main picture.

Some of the above styles may have worked if the Post had enough pages to get a flow going. But in a 32-page main book it went nowhere, not helped by a screaming ‘WANTED SCRAP GOLD’ full-page ad on page seven, an aptly-named ‘diversions’ puzzles collection on page 11 and a pointless New York Times-style ‘comment and analysis’ section on page 15.

Re-reading my 600+ words so far you can see what the subtitle of this blog is getting at… I’ve hardly mentioned content because of irksome design inconsistencies.

The page three lead on the demise of a ‘groundbreaking’ arts group was interesting, but its layout was so intent on using stylish pictures that the sub forgot to ask the reporter why there was no mention of the amounts of money spent, needed or axed, (subs still do edit, don’t they?).

This shyness of figures happened again on the page nine lead revealing how Liverpool’s second tallest sky-scraper had been approved but might never be built – no hint of the costs in 25 pars.

Other than these half-enticing stories and the aforementioned Heseltine splash – a fine read if poorly projected – there was little else to shout about.

Perhaps it had something to do with – sorry to mention it again – the jarring orange used for sub-headings, pull-out quotes and sub-section titles throughout. Why orange?!

There were 57 reports on 16 news and features pages, 31 on seven pages of sport and 57 in 16 pages of ‘Business’, plus spreads on TV listings and race cards.

Not the worst story count, but evidently not enough to stop dramatic sales declines, the Post recording minus 28pc in the first half of 2010 and minus 13.2pc in the Latest ABCs.

The Trinity Mirror title, costing 60p, now sells just 8,868 a day, perilously close to the 7,000 sales level that saw sister morning the Birmingham Post go weekly just over a year ago.

This, I predict, will be the fate of the Liverpool Daily Post in 2012, perhaps at least providing the pagination for its genteel style to shine, and hopefully seeing it follow the Birmingham business title’s subsequent climb in sales, the latter now selling 11,935 a week.

14 Comments

  1. Subbo

    ‘making the paper feel insignificant…’ Latest readership figures, which you include, show the paper IS insignificant in a city the size of Liverpool. Its Welsh edition is still quite successful, however.

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  2. the red postman

    What’s a newspaper which styles itself ‘First for business’ doing with a giant picture of a former pop moppet on the front?

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  3. Fort Outsider

    Good read this morning. However, if I can be pedantic, the circ figures you quote for the Birmingham Post are skewed. You say the Post was at 7k pre-weekly conversion compared to 12k + now. Although the non-bulk sale of the daily was c7k, the total sale was much higher once bulks were added. The current figure you quote for the weekly also includes 4-5k of airport bulks, so I’m afraid not much has changed.

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  4. p1

    Don’t agree with the headline on pictures comments – I think it can look very effective – however 100 per cent in accord re the Liv Post front page – really uninspiring, but could have been so much better.

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  5. Blue

    The Bham Post’s ‘sales’ figures are interesting in detail. As anyone with access to the latest ABC certificate can see, only 58.6% of its 11,935 figure were ‘paid’, with as many as 4,935 (41.35%) classed as bulks. The certificate goes on to show that 3,636 of these were picked up for free at the airport by travellers, with another 455 free at city hotels. The pros and cons of bulks is another argument, but this feels like one of the highest proportions of bulk copies in the regionals weekly paid-for category. One further item of interest from the ABC certificate… the Bham Post started to reduce airport copies towards the end of 2010 – 5,411 in October to 3,817 in November. If this is an ongoing trend rather than anything seasonal it could make the next ABC look disastrous. Moving on, anyone got a breakdown of the Liverpool Daily Post’s ABCs (bulks v paid)?

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  6. Hacked off

    I reckon the big problem is the Liverpool Post has to play second-fiddle to its sister title the Liverpool Echo, which was once an evening but is now a morning paper. So they are competing against each other at the same time of day on the same news stands. The Echo gets all the sexy stuff, while the poor Post has to try to make something exciting from its self-proclaimed “business” profile.

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  7. Formerpoststaffer

    I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw this incarnation of the Post last year. It has to be the worst-looking newspaper in British history. Its previous design was bad enough but this takes the biscuit. There is a complete creativity vacuum at play here. It’s a shame as they have some good writers but the subs are woeful (although overworked using a bad system to be fair). Billing your paper as a business-led title and then not having a business lead says it all. If only people in Liverpool were interested in football or something like that, you’d have something to build a paper around.

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  8. Dysonhoover

    Fine words from the man who made the Birmingham Mail front page look like a jigsaw made in an earhquake. Why does HTFP give breathing room to a failed editor?

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  9. Wayne Ossett

    IT no longer has a Welsh edition. North Wales Daily Post and Liverpool Daily Post went their separate ways about 10 years ago. It’s a title in its own right and looks very different.

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  10. Steve Dyson

    Thanks for all feedback so far. I thought the ABC detail was really interesting, so don’t think yourself a ‘pedant’ at all, ‘Fort Outsider’. I’m toying with visiting the North-East or south Midlands for the next blog… any preferences?

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  11. Justin Dunn

    The Post’s problem – aside from a brain-blinding company policy of allowing the Echo the “sexy stuff” of gangsters, sick kids and generally being “Scouse”, while the Post patters on about unknown business people becoming MDs of firms they were previously deputy MDs of, and then selling the two titles alongside each other – is its apparently rabid obsession with any old pile of sh*t put out by PR companies with the dreaded “artist’s impression” of what great scheme almost certainly isn’t going to come to fruition. I appreciate the plan is something like the Post offering light to the Echo’s shade, but it just doesn’t work – hence the readers running away, possibly screaming, in droves. I coincidentally bought a copy out of pity for the first time in months yesterday. 60p for 34 or 36 pages. Absolutely atrocious value – two feet away The Times at £1 offered me 100 pages. Other people have mentioned the quality of the staff and I agree, there really are some great reporters and writers there – and the editor knows his stuff, too – but the platform TM are obviously insisting they stick to is useless. The crucial question is: What’s the point of the Liverpool Daily Post? Sadly – very sadly – there no longer is one. * There’s alarmingly little advertising in it, too, which pretty much says it all for a “business”-led title.

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  12. Completed Fields

    The reason the Post is now so poor is quite simple. 1) The management no longer care about it and, by and large, treats it more as an inconvenience than a cause 2) What are construed as being the “not as talented” staff within the office – ie the ones that used to be dedicated to the Post only – are being made to feel insignificant by primarily given Post duties, and thus treated by management as not being as important or worthwhile as the other supposedly “better” journalists at the Echo. These people are not stupid, professional pride only lasts for so long, and as such their work is beginning to suffer. Also, it must be said that the decision that they are “better” or “worse” is entirely based on the management inside the office, whose poor judgement is quite often exposed when it comes to how many of these “better” or “worse” journalists ultimately move up to national level. 3. In an age of 24-hour news, the decision to bring the Post deadlines earlier and earlier (9pm off-stone deadline on most nights)simply makes no sense. Unless, of course, it is an attempt to ensure it does not in any way impact on the sales of the Echo. Which of course would never happen, right? 4. The redesign was such so that the newspaper could be completed as quickly as possible with the least amount of creative thought possible. 5. Any decent exclusives or stories are switched to the Echo or replicated in the Echo so not to save the “embarrassment” of the Post having a good story on the newsstands when the Echo does not. Of course, the side-effect of all this is that there are many inside the office who treat the Echo with a huge amount of resentment, and as such the Echo itself is now turning into the laughable comic that so many of its critics inside the city have long claimed it to be. The management would never admit it, but the decision to merge the Post and Echo staff, as well as the weeklies, has failed miserably from a creative point of view. Yes, it has saved costs that needed to be saved. Yes, perhaps it has saved a few jobs at management level. But the reality is that by being neither fish nor fowl, the Post is being allowed to drift further and further towards the abyss. The decision should be made to either get rid of it, or get 100% behind it with the kind of focus and committed staff it used to have. The same goes for the Echo, too. It is also not helped by the fact the management steadfastly refuse to be openly honest about their priorities. And if you want to know how I know all this, until relatively recently I was very much a fully committed Post and Echo staff member.

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  13. Larry Neild

    Hey, it’s great Liverpool is one of the few provincial cities with a morning newspaper. Even Manchester doesn’t have one any more. It still manages to be Liverpool’s newspaper of record. There have been cutbacks etc, but the enthusiasm of the journos who write for the Daily Post is great. 60p for a 34 page paper. Cheap at the price. OK, buy the 1,000 page Times for a few bob and count the number of Merseyside stories in it, usually around, let me see, none. Instead of moaning about typography we should be celebrating Liverpool still has its own morning paper. Long may it continue. Oh, and yes, I do buy a copy each day.

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  14. Fencehopper

    When will someone at HTFP start casting their net a bit wider and examining the online offerings of these papers and those news providers without a print product?

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