Imagine you’re running a free weekly with a fair bit of space for editorial in the front end. What would you splash on from the following stories – all involving locals?
- Jail for disgraced charity treasurer
- Man claimed benefits while sailing in the Caribbean
- Councillor bids to catch dog poo pests
- New tactics to tackle yobs
My top three choices would have been the above list in descending order: readers hate charity cheats; someone managing to claim dole while enjoying the sun is both fascinating and outrageous; and ‘dog poo’ is one of the most talked about community irritations.
The fourth story on the list – ‘New tactics to tackle yobs’ – sounds too generic and strategic, perhaps an inside page lead but lacking the obvious ‘grab factor’. Yet this was the splash choice for the North Devon Gazette on Wednesday May 9.
Perhaps the story was better than its headline sounded so, in case you can’t read the text on the above image, let me type out the first three pars for you to weigh up its quality.
‘The anti-social behaviour blight that makes life a misery for thousands of people in North Devon every year is being tackled with a pioneering approach.
‘This week, Safer North Devon unveiled the Hub, a commonsense initiative for dealing with problems that plague individuals and communities where local police, fire service, councils, housing associations and other agencies work together.
‘Instead of a piecemeal approach, they now join forces for daily tasking meetings to tackle anti-social behaviour (ASB) reports across North Devon and Torridge as they arise, in what is being hailed as the first approach of its kind in Devon.’
Are you still awake? What on earth are the terms ‘anti-social behaviour blight’, ‘pioneering approach’, ‘commonsense initiative’, ‘piecemeal approach’ and ‘hailed as the first approach of its kind’ doing in this copy? It reads to me like a lightly rejigged press release.
All the story is really saying is that local authorities – all paid for by readers – have finally twigged that if they share information they might have more success in identifying and tackling bad behaviour.
If anything, a better angle could have been just that: ‘Yobs have roamed free across North Devon for years because councils, police and fire services have failed to share information or work together to tackle the problem.’
Here are the page positions and first pars of my top three choices from the above list:
- Page 10: ‘The former treasurer of North Devon Animal Ambulance has been jailed for 14 months after stealing almost £100,000 from the charity.’
- Page 13: ‘An Ilfracombe man falsely claimed nearly £2,000 in state handouts while sailing a yacht in the Caribbean.’
- Page 3: ‘A North Devon Councillor says he is prepared to do ‘whatever it takes’ to shop dog walkers who don’t clear up after their animals.’
These stories show that the editorial team can do their job: the headlines were good, the intros snappy and the obvious human interest was all there. Any of them could have made page one, so why choose the jargon-filled ‘yob tactics’ tale?
The paid-for opposition, the Northcliffe-owned North Devon Journal, is not out until Thursday, the day after the Gazette, and so it wouldn’t have been first with the alternatives. And the charity worker was jailed the previous Thursday, after both papers’ previous editions were out, so the Gazette had the first local print pickings for this story.
“Ah,” I hear someone say, “but this story was all over the TV news and so was an old one six days later for the Gazette.” I’m not so sure – this was a huge local case with the thief coming from Barnstaple, the home town of the Gazette, and it would have had all tongues furiously wagging for days.
Although the jailing had been on the local BBC, it was still prime for a quality follow up – chats with neighbours, local cat lovers, charity workers, and so on.
There may have been other reasons for the random story placements, but if there were they didn’t excuse the lame choice that was the splash.
Splash choices aside, that week’s Gazette had 119 stories on 31 news, features and sports pages, with the other 77 pages in the 104-page paper healthily packed full of ads.