The tragic tale of Matthew Goodman, allegedly killed by twin brother Ryan at the family’s new Spanish home, was one of Northampton’s biggest stories of the year.
I’d read the breaking court story in the national tabloids and wondered how the new daily-turned-weekly Northampton Chronicle & Echo would try to take the story forward in its Thursday 28 June edition.
In what must have been a deadline-chasing follow-up, the paper’s news editor Daniel Owens appeared to have landed an exclusive chat with the twins’ mother that made for an emotive read.
With the story already big news, the simple headline of ‘Mum: I’ll stand by accused son’ was strong and would have been a pull for local readers looking for a new angle.
That said, the huge ‘Exclusive’ tag in red looked a little odd misplaced on the sub-heading beneath the picture – the chat with mum was supposed to be the exclusive, not the alleged killing story itself.
The rest of the splash design was also a little confusing – the caption, sub-headings and blob presented a staccato attempt at telling the story when a classier three par write-off would have been much better.
These lay-out stumbles aside, the story itself worked for me on page three, written with an appropriate dropped-intro under ‘A new life in Spain results in tragedy’, with more than 150 words of mum’s heartache.
I say “appeared to have landed an exclusive” above because a search of the internet shows similar ‘exclusive’ quotes in a report by Sophie Scott in the competing Northants Herald & Post under the same dateline, so there may be counter claims as to who got the chat first.
Personally, I’m happy to let Johnston Press, owners of the Chronicle & Echo, batter that one out with Iliffe, owners of the Herald & Post, as the main thing for me was that local readers were served up with a new story, various nationals lifting these regional quotes later that night.
The twin killing was certainly a gripping start for that week’s Chronicle & Echo, giving the paper a dose of hard news quality that I thought was a little lacking on other early pages.
Page two was a complex mish-mash of content boosts, contact panels and weather; pages four, five, six and seven contained two fairly soft and stretched Olympic torch prelim spreads; and pages eight and nine were largely filled with a ‘Week in pictures’ spread, (although the main shot of a local bikini-wearing beauty sitting in beans for charity was an eye-popper!).
It wasn’t until page 13 that I came across another story worthy of a page lead, with ‘Guilty, at 91, of harassment’ telling how Ernest Thallon became Northamptonshire’s oldest person ever convicted of a criminal offence after harassing his wife. Other well-written hard news stories included:
- ‘Racist man’s mosque row’ on page 18, telling how Nigel Marshall was banned from going within 100 yards of a mosque after abusing Muslims attending Friday prayers;
- ‘Man-powered plane takes to the skies’ on page 25;
- ‘Woman denies attack on child in phone box’ on page 35; and
- ‘Balloon pilot ignored pylon danger advice’ on page 39.
Overall, I thought the new weekly used too many columns and features to fill voluminous space – 136-pages for the main book and Motors, and another 120-pages for ‘The Guide’ leisure package and ‘Property’ pull-outs.
Examples of features that were worth a page but looked weak as spreads included one on youth awards for stamping out hate crime on pages 16 and 17, and another on horse welfare on pages 20 and 21.
And as for columns, there were five in the front end, and most simply took up too much space, like ‘Aufona’, by Richard Edmondson, which had six snippets of local gossip that read well enough but looked windy over most of a page.
Three ‘columns’ together on pages 30 and 31 had a similar affect on my attention – a page of ‘Opinion’ from Steve Scoles, two-thirds of a page from the local BBC’s John Griff and (at last) a column-shaped column from John Gardiner.
By the time I got to ‘Behind the Headlines’ on page 32 I’d lost the will to read, (sorry, Daniel Owens, as the splash writer you deserved more attention, so tell them that four opinions on the trot is too much).
I’m afraid I’m one of those traditionalists who believes that a column should generally be just that – tall, thin and adding zest and colour, not obese and trying but failing to dominate news hungry readers.
A sixth ‘column’ just after the fold was again the majority of a page, but at least ‘County Tales’ was in the context of a ‘Looking Back’ spread and so was nicely broken up with archive pictures and historical cuttings.
Four ‘columns’ also appeared in sport, but these appeared in more restrained sizes of third or, at the most, half pages and were better spread out.
Space-fillers aside, there was still value for money in the £1 Chronicle & Echo, with 200+ stories on 49 news and features pages in the main book, and another 100+ reports on 21 sports pages – and that’s without counting any tales in the leisure, motors and property guide.
And given that life as a weekly is still new, I’m sure the team will quickly improve the flow and reshape the opinion pieces to develop an even better read for a circulation that Johnston claims is growing.