17 December 2014

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Dyson at Large: Strong splashes, with room for improvement

It was great to see such a strong selection of page one treatments in Cardiff.
To me, they are the sacrosanct elements of any newspaper, virtual shop windows that more than anything else spell success or disaster.
But all too often regional dailies with stretched production resources end up using repetitive templates – resulting in front pages too easily passed over in newsagents.
Not so in the Western Mail, which displayed the creative side of its splash sub(s) earlier this month.
And while each of the three examples we’re going to look at in this blog could be slightly improved, it’s encouraging to see the determined intent to grab readers’ eyes.
First up is a pretty conventional shape from Thursday 2 June, but with an emotive talky headline that drags you in to read the story: “She cried ‘help me please’ then was shot in the head”.
Yes, the murder of Swansea newly-weds Ben and Catherine Mullaney was a big national story too, but it deservedly took pages one, four and five in the Western Mail.
Six decks for the splash can sometimes be too many, but it worked this time, and a decently sized and cropped wedding picture made for a quality package.
What I would say is that the right-hand column drop was too detailed to sit well with this, while the centimetre of white border space was distracting; nor did I like the centralised contents strap at the base (have one, by all means, but fill it out).
The next copy I got hold of was from Monday 6 June, a completely different approach.
“Prayers for blast survivor as families mourn loved ones” was the strap above collect pictures of four workers killed in the Pembrokeshire oil refinery explosion, while the main splash underneath announced “Murder of a ‘lovely lady’ stuns quiet community”.

Both were strong stories with ‘must-read’ content, with a class caption on the blast victims serving well as a write-off whereas nearly ten pars made it onto the front for the murder.

Personally, with the blast four days old and the victims pictured on TV the night before, I felt they took up a little much space, and with the horizontal nature of both packages it meant you had to double-take to read the lead headline.
As a result, the collect of the murdered ‘lovely lady’, Angelika Dries-Jenkins, was surely too small, and with such important and deceased headshots I also thought it was not the day for a reporter’s smiley picture byline.
The page one from Tuesday 7 June was so nearly an award-winner, a wipe out splash on the above murder based on a moving statement from the victim’s family.
“Our gentle mum” was the main headline, with “Don’t shelter her killer, plead Angelika’s family” as the sub-heading that told the story.

 

This worked well, and as a major Welsh murder would have produced good casual pick-up as people knew the face and story and would have wanted to read what the family’s reaction was.

Unfortunately, the grain of the picture was not really good enough to be used as large as it was.
There might have been a white-on-black way of placing the same headline but with two pictures underneath – 60% Angelika perhaps sitting next to the aerial of the murder scene that was used on page two.
And the family statement, while strong, did not come across as well with 90-plus words to read all at once on page one; I thought a carefully edited 45-words would have looked better.
Two other things about all three splashes – one big positive and two small negatives.
Good news to start with – the large, clean ‘Western Mail’ with the perfectly-sized Welsh dragon in red make for an impactful, easily recognizable masthead.
But why describe itself every day in a strap beneath this as the ‘NATIONAL NEWSPAPER OF WALES’ when it’s only really sold in South Wales – with the Daily Post (Wales) selling more copies from its northern base?
To me, it’s a superfluous statement anyway, but the inaccuracy is more likely to annoy than impress readers.
And I know the Western Mail is a Welsh paper, but why repeat that statement in the Welsh language under the dateline when the rest of the paper from front to end is (thankfully) written in English?
Yes, please diddymu the token ‘PAPUR CENEDLAETHOL CYMRU’!
But don’t let me be too pernickety, nor allow the above suggestions on possible ways to improve the page one designs to detract from an overall impressive selection of fronts.
Suffice it to say that however good any of our regional splashes are, there is always room to do slightly better the next time.
The Western Mail, published by Trinity Mirror and sold at 60p a day, had steady paginations of 48, 64 and 56-pages respectively on the days I picked it up.
Inside content wasn’t my focus this time round, but each paper contained some pretty good reads, although I must point out a slightly below par total story count – with an average of just 140 news, features and sports reports per issue.


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