There was certainly no silly season at play in the Bucks Free Press earlier this month.
A toxic gas alert, bogus riot reports and a breaking murder hunt all made for a gift of a conference news list and any of these stories could have made the main page one focal point.
But an overabundance of good, hard news meant that the splash sub could have done with some forthright direction on what to concentrate on – and I think this was missing on Friday August 12.
The wavering can be seen in the mini red-on-white strap ‘A WEEK OF PANIC IN WYCOMBE’, and the cross-reference of ‘A tale of two unrelated dramas – PAGES 4 & 5’ on the bottom left.
The lead headline ‘7 SENT TO HOSPITAL IN TOXIC GAS ALERT’ next to the chemically-suited firemen worked OK, but there was then more distraction with a bullet-pointed sub heading on the bogus riots again, before returning to the ‘cloud of fumes’ tale.
The black headline on the dark picture along with the WOB sub-headings also made for quite a dark front, not really lifted by a forest-green boost which saw poor Jimmy Osmond dominated by the adjacent ‘AMERSHAM MURDER HUNT LATEST’.
Again, the stories were all worth page one, and the content of these inside was fine, it’s just that juggling too much in the shop window can leave readers’ eyes wandering all over the place.
Layout quickly improved inside, with ‘Murder inquiry as man found stabbed’ dominating page three, the riot rumours leading page four and the toxic fumes story on page five.
Page two was crammed with ‘Family Announcements’ – a total of 35 ads full of detail, a positioning which acknowledges the importance of this section to readers.
Other news highlights in the 60-page main book included:
• ‘Jailed for burglary at England star’s family home’ on page seven, a detailed report on the trial and conviction of two men who’d raided Theo Walcott’s Hemel Hempstead home;
• ‘Residents fight new village at Daws Hill’ on page 10, a good community news piece on the opposition to the development of a former RAF base in High Wycombe; and
• ‘Mustard gas caused death of BBC man’ on page 17, a fascinating inquest on how Newsnight sound recordist Cyril Benford – a local man – died as result of breathing in toxic fumes when reporting from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
I also enjoyed the page 13 ‘Look Who’s Talking’ column by local star resident Colin Baker of Dr Who fame, which shows the pull of the title for well-placed locals.
Baker’s comment was on the grisly but lifting story of Iranian acid victim Ameneh Bahrami, who granted mercy for her acid attacker.
In total, there were 145 reports and a packed listings section on 22 news and features pages, with another 68 stories on nine pages of sport.
It wasn’t the busiest paid-for weekly in terms of story count that I’ve reviewed recently, with quite a high ad ratio, but the content itself was all readable stuff.
And a 60-page ‘Property’ pull-out gave readers the wodge of newsprint that they would expect for the 60p cover price.
The Bucks Free Press, first published in 1856, is now owned by Newsquest, and sells 18,997 per week according to the latest ABCs. A ‘Midweek’ edition sells another 4,166.