Did you see the joy and pleasure on the faces of the crowds straining to catch a glimpse of the Queen and Kate in Leicester last Thursday?
Cameras from all the national TV networks homed in on the smiles, the laughter and the warm comments that came from the old and young, the black, white and Asian, all happily waving Union Jacks.
I’m no royalist, but the images and sounds of real people genuinely enjoying this small part of being British made me feel good, and so I headed to Leicestershire the very next day to see how the printed press had responded.
And I wasn’t disappointed when I picked up the Leicester Mercury for Friday 9 March: a wipe-out splash, with the first nine pages carrying 33 pictures of the Queen’s first official visit to mark her 60th year of reign.
‘KATE-MANIA!’ screamed the front page headline, perfectly describing the magic of the photo above it, Kate’s winning smile delighting schoolchildren, her strong handshake and direct look almost certainly delighting the lucky fellow who’d proffered his greeting.
This was the way to capture the imagination of both your regular readers and the casual trade who happened to have been in that crowd and then saw your paper’s detailed coverage the next day.
- ‘IT’S 11:29am, AND THE WAIT IS OVER…’ was the page two and three spread headline, heralding the royal party’s arrival at Leicester rail station;
- ‘PUTTING ON THE STYLE AT DE MONT’ introduced pages five and six, leading on the fashion show at De Montford University;
- ‘A DAY TO UNITE US’ was the page six and seven headline that summed up how I felt, with great photos of the Queen and Kate meeting well-wishers; and
- ‘KIND KATE REVEALS SHE’S MISSING WILL’ headlined pages eight and nine, the Mercury’s reporters in the crowd bringing back the quotes that told the story people wanted to read.
All fantastic stuff from the Mercury team currently led by acting editor Richard Bettsworth – displaying the confidence of an experienced editor who knows what readers will like.
My only small concern about the coverage was that some of the pictures were used too small – and some of the accompanying stories were too long.
For events like this, I reckon eight pars a page will do because you’re better devoting the rest of the space to allow the pictures to breathe; for the same reason, it would have been nice to move the large adverts from the spreads.
And were those pictures owned by the Leicester Mercury? I’m not sure they were, because the only picture byline I could see was for Matt Short’s page one image, and he’s a well-known freelance, not a staffer.
Perhaps that explains why there was no sign of any picture sales boosts, which would surely have generated good business from all the recognisable members of the public who wanted to buy their moment in history.
If my guess is right, that’s the problem with regional dailies no longer having their own photographers – they no longer own the copyright to sell the pictures; if my guess is wrong, this was certainly a missed opportunity for highlighting picture sales.
What was well-used on page three was a picture boost to the ‘24-PAGE SPECIAL’ in the next day’s Mercury, ‘The Queen’s 60th’ pull-out surely providing another welcome sales boost for Saturday 10 March.
The rest of the Mercury on 9 March was understandably muted, with 16 more news and letters pages carrying 60+ stories, another 20-odd reports on six sports pages, plus a few features and a Motors pull-out.
But for once anything past page nine didn’t really matter, because the front end was so well designed and dedicated to Leicester’s story of the week that so many readers would have loved.
And pretty exclusive stuff for a regional paper as well – in that no other media would have devoted so much editorial space to so many collectable pictures, the kind that people want physically, not virtually.
As well as new sales to new readers, I bet it would have got hundreds to spend an extra 40p – a low cover price – to put a second copy away for posterity. If so, this would have been a nice fillip for the paper, which recorded a 10 per cent fall to 48,457 in the latest ABCs.
It was heartening to see such fine efforts by Northcliffe’s Mercury, which had been in the media limelight for less pleasant reasons in recent weeks, with rows over cuts and claims of disinterested managing directors.
I would urge any dailies and weeklies with the Queen’s diamond jubilee visits in their news diaries to follow this exemplary performance, and fill their pages with pictures of local people enjoying royalty.