Don’t you just love it when you find a local newspaper making a first-rate job of a traditional task?
On Thursday 16 August, the Banbury Guardian’s splash told a fascinating story that came from attending the hearings that online, broadcast and national media hardly ever bother with: inquests.
The headline itself was enough to grab the attention of Banbury readers – ‘Asbestos exposure killed Alcan staff’ – as tens of thousands of locals worked at the historic metal-bashing factory between 1929 and its closure in 2008.
Reporter Jemma Callow wrote the report with skill, accurately describing the mesothelioma cancer that killed one former worker and the metatastic cancer that claimed the other.
One of the victims worked there during World War Two, when Alcan was churning out parts for the Spitfire fighter, adding a touch of history to the story.
The inquests had been held separately, but Jemma delicately combined the reports, filling the resulting 24-par article with dozens of facts and several impactful quotes of evidence.
Take the one from Dr Eve Fryer, who carried out the post-mortem on one victim: “You are 50 times more likely to develop it [metatastic cancer] if you are exposed to asbestos and a smoker as they have a cumulative effect.”
Perhaps I’m a devil’s advocate, but I particularly liked the fact that Banbury Guardian editor Jason Gibbins didn’t publish the story online until 22 August – six days after the weekly paper came out.
And why should he? If only his paper was at the inquest, why let everyone read it for nothing when loyal ink and print readers are each paying 55p a week for the privilege?
Look carefully at the home news page and you’ll notice something else: while many stories are fully uploaded six days after every edition, there is only a small image of the current edition published; click on this image and it politely lists a few content headlines and tells you the paper’s on sale for 55p, but seems to offer little or no ‘live’ content.
The argument around this sort of approach would take a blog of its own, but I like the Guardian’s web-stingy style and hope the fact that it’s owned by Johnston Press doesn’t mean this local initiative is wiped out by a group-wide ‘digital first’ policy
Because limiting what’s given away to online freeloaders appears to have done no harm to the Guardian’s print sales: the latest ABC figures show a 0.2 per cent rise – yes, that’s an increase – to 13,884 in the second half of 2011, and any editor would give their right arm for the steady longer-term trend revealed on its ABC certificate.
Some designers might criticise the front page design, and while I would agree that the Fairport Convention picture was of mediocre quality I rated the simplicity of the splash, and the sheer impact of the FREE doughnut offer.
Turning inside, the Guardian’s serious approach as the custodian of readers’ local interests shone throughout with a wide variety of interesting stories, including:
- ‘Parkinsons’ sufferer told home will be demolished’ leading page three;
- ‘Parent’s struggle as son is denied a place at primary’ leading page five;
- ‘Footballer jailed for two violent assaults’ leading page seven;
- ‘Centre is Beacon of hope to homeless and vulnerable’ leading page 11; and
- ‘Controversial homes plan prompts inquiry’ leading page 18.
Deserving of a special mention was ‘Fined for theft of leg of lamb’ on page six – the story carefully selected for an eye-catching headline from 17 individual Banbury Magistrates cases that filled a ‘Court Report’ half page.
Another good read was ‘Sweethearts mark special day with champagne lunch’ leading page 14, marking the 64th wedding anniversary of a couple at a local care home.
Too often I’ve see this sort of report rushed as a dull caption, but this was crafted as a warm news story with loving detail, and the picture of the elderly couple laughing in each others’ arms was touching.
Thanks to its dedication to detailed nibs, the Banbury Guardian had nearly 300 stories on 31 news and features pages, and about 40 mainly longer reports on eight sports pages in its 64-page main book on 16 August; there was an additional 48-page Property pull-out.
If you’re passing through Oxfordshire, it’s worth stopping to take a look at this exemplar of excellence in the British local press.