I’ve never liked green or yellow on newsprint, although I accept that discreet use of these colours can be effective on certain sports pages.
Despite my prejudice, the Dorset Echo’s masthead – upper and lower case in black lightface on white for ‘Dorset’, followed by capitals in green bold on white for ‘Echo’ – is quite a clean brand.
But content boosts around the masthead containing too many capitals, changing typefaces and tints resulted in an ugly display headache on Monday 9 September.
There were capitals in white lightface and bold fonts on green, yellow capitals in bold on green, and then – for me the worst – capitals in black lightface and red bold on yucky yellow.
This potpourri was squeezed by a lack of leading between the decks of masthead, dateline and boosts, and cluttered by the tiny lamb-child-man cut-out and sports section images.
And I wasn’t gripped by the boost lines themselves, especially ‘You know The Score’ and ‘Join the tea revolution’; but more on the tea later.
The main ‘HEARTBROKEN’ headline and ‘Vandals attack headstones’ subheading were much clearer, introducing a mum and daughter distraught at their (great) granny’s vandalised grave.
This is a relatively common but newsworthy topic, and I carefully read the story on page two: unfortunately, this failed to name the deceased relative, a poor omission given that local readers might have remembered her or known the family.
No matter, I thought, I can see a name in the huge headstone picture on page one, but then found that this reads: ‘In loving memory of George Read, a dear husband, father and grandfather’.
This was strange, as there was no mention of granddad George in the story, and so rather than helping the reader the picture only added confusion.
Oh well, these things can happen, but it didn’t make for a smooth entry to the Echo, which was further interrupted by the kicker ‘Walker flown to hospital following ankle injury’ on page two.
This story stated that ‘the person suffered the injury whilst taking part in a water sport activity’, which disputed the ‘walker’ headline, and it ended with an empty quote: ‘Eyewitness Andy White, who saw the helicopter landing, said: “I was some distance away to know exactly what was going on.”’
Neither of these stories appeared to have been desked properly – and I realise that this may well point to resource rather than skills issues.
Soft leads included ‘Hang up festival hats with pride’ on page three, ‘Event’s a real show-stopper’ spread across pages four and five, ‘Trees feel the chop as path takes shape’ on page six, ‘Yoga for you and the bump’ on page nine and ‘What a feat’ on page 11.
There was a stronger ‘Family escape in fire drama’ lead on page seven and a solid ‘Sign up and save lives’ health spread on pages 12 and 13, but even with the headstone splash this meant only three main hard news stories on local pages.
Not enough, I’d suggest, especially when seven pages were then spent on ‘taste’, a worryingly weak food and drink section.
This began with a poster front headlined ‘Something’s brewing’, turning to a tea spread on pages 18 and 19 with too many forced headlines: ‘It’s time to turn over a new leaf’; ‘Our Dorset brew’s causing a storm in a teacup’; and ‘New blend creating a stir across the UK’.
Four of the pictures filling this spread showed a woman’s steps for, er, making tea…
Next came single page features reviewing Jamie Oliver’s latest book and another TV chef’s show on the Good Food channel, then two single but worthwhile puzzles and entertainment pages.
Don’t get me wrong: I like a cuppa (Earl Grey please), but a single headline and one-page feature on tea could have saved two pages, and no-one would have missed puffs for ubiquitous Jamie or wannabe Valentine Warner.
Perhaps I’m a philistine, but for me this roomy feature section felt too fluffy in a tight, 32-page book and could have been cut back to provide more space for news and sport.
It was a Monday, of course, and perhaps the muddled front page and light news touch was a rarity, but I think some better efforts – or more resources – are needed to satisfy Dorset readers.
As it was, there were around 70 stories on 15 news pages, about 20 (including letters) on eight features pages and just 16 reports on nine sports pages.
This is not too steep compared with other regional dailies, but it’s more noticeable coming just three years after the title was celebrating a +2.1pc rise to 18,396, which at the time was put down to a ‘back to basics’ approach to newsgathering.
It’s important to note that experienced and award-winning editor Toby Granville now has a lot more on his hands, as he’s also been editing the Bournemouth Daily Echo since 2011; this title recorded a -11.4pc decline in the first half of 2013.
While Walker’s background suggests he’s going to be planning Newsquest’s digital future, he needs to help editors take just as much care of print, which still provides the vast majority of revenue.