I was fascinated by the detailed news value I found on the front pages of French regional dailies this summer.
L’Union, based in Reims, in the Champagne-Ardenne region, displayed eight headlines, with a single write-off and picture captions the only other copy found on page one.
‘His young victim died’ was the basic meaning of the ‘Sa jeune victim est décédée’ splash on Thursday 8 August, reporting a murder charge following a fatal local road-rage shooting.
Rough translations of some of the other headlines created by French sub-editors to catch passing trade included: ‘Home plundered after two-day squat’; ‘He grows his vines with music’; ‘She carries her late mother in a bag’; ‘Storms plaguing the summer’; and ‘Wild grass invading cemeteries’.
While my French is pretty pidgin, I enjoyed this raw mix of content, which together with the summer homework and canoe race headlines successfully created an ‘all human life is here’ theme.
Le Progrès, based in Lyon, in the Rhône-Alpes region, was even more hard-hitting, the bizarre ‘12,000 rabbits burnt to death’ competing with ‘Gypsy camp blaze’ for the splash on Friday 16 August, while six other headlines pulled in sports, religious and political readers.
My point is not just about the quality of news in what was supposedly the silly season, but the fact that both papers – along with most others I saw in France – consistently dedicate their front pages to multiple headlines.
Perhaps this is one reason why French regionals are said to be comparatively stable – a claim made in research on www.audipresse.fr, a Gallic press analyst’s website.
Half of the French adult population – 25-plus million people – are reading daily newspapers, with 18 million of these being regional newspapers, a figure that is said to have grown in recent years.
The latest figures revealed that L’Union had 429,000 readers in 2012, down just 2.1pc on 2011, while Le Progrès grew 0.3pc to 853,000.
Of the 35 regional titles audited, 22 were said to have increased print readership, with the overall regional average growing by 1pc to 18,816,000 in 2012.
These are readership rather than circulation figures, of course, and so are not a direct comparison with British ABC audits.
And there will be many other factors – including the advantage of various levels of government subsidy enjoyed by French newspapers and journalism.
But I couldn’t help feeling that the bill-style page ones found across the Channel, with no adverts, were far more eye-grabbing than some of Britain’s over-designed, content-scarce front pages that are often hindered by advertising.
For the story-counters, by the way, L’Union, priced at 1€, had more than 200 reports on 43 editorial pages, and Le Progrès, priced at 0.95€, carried 200-plus stories on 60 editorial pages.