After three or four attempts, I gave up trying to pronounce the Tameside Reporter’s tongue-twisting splash headline on Thursday 14 February.
Have a go yourself: ‘Into Metropo-bliss!’ Now repeat five times, without stopping; meaningless, isn’t it?
What I was sure about, however, was that this should not have been the splash, and that no amount of clever wordsmithing could persuade me otherwise.
And as with all failing headlines, the exclamation mark only served to underline the fact that it didn’t work; but more on exclamation marks later.
First, let’s consider what I think should have been the front page lead: ‘Cregan in dramatic guilty plea change’.
This was the much better headline on page five, where a detailed, 53-paragraph court report told the breaking story – it happened on the Tuesday – of cop-killer Dale Cregan, who had suddenly admitted the murders of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes.
Yes, it was such a huge tale that the news would immediately have been online that day and in the nationals the next, so its placement in a local weekly is worthy of debate.
But to me, this was the tale that would have gripped all Reporter readers, the fatal gun and grenade attack having taken place in Mottram, Longdendale – in the heart of the paper’s patch in Tameside, Greater Manchester.
The Reporter had sent its own staffer – Max Wieland – to file from Preston Crown Court and he’d left nothing out of his story, one that could have been cleverly written off as a must-read splash, perhaps with ‘I did murder PCs Fiona and Nicola’ as an even better headline.
As for the new Metrolink line to Droylsden, that could still have been the second lead, a picture or a write-off nib, but it struggled as a picture splash, and I disliked the exclamation marks in the headline and picture caption – ‘IT’S HERE!’
This unfortunate dependency on exclamation marks was displayed throughout the Tameside Reporter, including:
- ‘Pan-tastic day!’ in the page three headline, with the first par reading: ‘Ashton’s Ladysmith Shopping Centre team scooped this year’s ‘Pancake flipping’ competition in a contest that saw the reigning champions lose in style!’
- The second par of the page six lead reporting on love matches at a local factory: ‘The workers are always in love and most of them with each other!’
- The first par of the page 11 lead: ‘It was a very full weekend for Tameside’s libraries as they celebrated National Libraries Day and the Chinese New Year!’
- The first par of the page 14 lead: ‘A local business has won a top north west award – just four months after starting up!’
- The first word of the page 16 lead: ‘Finally!’
- The headline on page 27: ‘Mayor drops in!’
I could go on, but my point has been made: exclamation marks in headlines and content rarely add anything, apart from stilting the flow for readers.
As one former editor used to boom across the newsroom in my youth: “No dogs’ cocks allowed in my paper!” (I know, crude, but that’s what exclamation marks were called at the Birmingham Post and Mail in the early 1990s.)
One more need for improvement on the Reporter was the layout inside, which too often meant headlines on opposite pages running into each other like this one: ‘Faster than lightening MP demands…’.
But I don’t want to be too harsh: splash choices, grammar style and page design can be improved, and it’s relatively early days since the Tameside Reporter – Sir Harold Evans’ first paper in the 1940s – was rescued and relaunched last autumn.
The encouraging thing about the paper was plenty of decent stories: a murder search with a CCTV image on page two, a hospital scandal on page four and greenbelt planning anger on page seven, to name just a few, on top of the Cregan trial latest.
We need to encourage the survival of independent local papers like the Reporter, and so I hope the above critique helps the editorial team to strengthen the shape and projection of what was ultimately a good read.