From the moment I picked up The Herald on 18 October, something felt odd on page one.
‘WOW! what a whoppa’, said the headline, next to a picture of a grimacing woman with what looked like a discoloured space hopper.
‘The lollipop lady’s giant pumpkin’, explained the subheading, pointing to page three for readers to find out more about this supposed vegetable sensation.
The page three lead then took no fewer than 15 paragraphs to tell the story under the headline ‘That’ll make a few pies!’.
There were two problems with this picture story: firstly, the pumpkin wasn’t really that big as far as pumpkins go, was it?
I mean, it only weighed 88lb, and even The Herald’s own story pointed out that the world record stands at 1,810lb – that’s 20 times larger than the Plymouth specimen.
Without being too boring, just look at the size and colour of this one if you really want to see a cucurbita maxima, to give it its Latin moniker.
But more critically, the way the picture was used on page one squashed the main lead, ‘COUNCILLOR GIVES YOUR MONEY TO STRAY DOGS’, and readers might have either flipped past the best story of the day or wrongly assumed that the pumpkin grower was the councillor.
This splash-diluting design was made worse by the right hand column that contained too many boost headlines, distracting the readers’ eyes without really providing any structured focus.
This blog spends a lot of time discussing page ones, and that is because they are often the only marketing tool publishers have with their products lying on newsstands.
Even if the pumpkin had been worth putting on page one, which it wasn’t, the Plymouth paper should have made room for an inset picture of Cllr Patricia Nicholson, who had controversially given £1,750 of community cash to a stray dogs’ charity.
In case you’re wondering, a picture of her does exist, and was even taken next to the sign of the said charity. It was used on The Herald’s website of the same day, so why not in the paper?
Anyway, enough knocking of the page one design; the splash story itself was a good one for regional newspaper readers who would have been fairly evenly split between outrage at and support for the stray dogs’ cash injection.
It wasn’t the only quality content in a 56-page main book that included:
- ‘Warnings as high tides thrash coast’ leading page 4, with several dramatic pictures of local promenades under water;
- ‘Bid to clear name of man who died on the way to court’ leading page 5; and
- ‘Heroin addict in a rage stabbed pal six times’ leading page 9.
In all, there were 100-plus stories on 30 news pages, plus listings and puzzles, and a well positioned ‘Family Announcements’ section before the fold on page 14.
I think more regional papers should consider splitting this well-read section of births, marriages and deaths away from general classified, providing an interesting page or several pages to break up news instead.
There were another 50-plus stories and results round-ups on seven pages of sport, where I was captivated by The Herald’s action pictures of an under 10s match that were displayed on the back page and a spread on pages 50 and 51.
This thoughtful use of scarce photographic resources would, I’m sure, have thrilled relatives and brightened up sports pages that in too many regionals are filled with dull stock pictures.
The Herald’s Thursday edition also carried a chunky 48-page ‘Homeseeker’ property section.
Owned by Northcliffe, The Herald sells an average of 26,803 copies a day, according to the latest ABC figures.