The Darlington & Stockton Times is the embodiment of a newspaper which means something to local people.
Why? Because it’s crammed full of exhaustive local news, dozens of local names and faces, and countless sections of useful local information in what I think was six-point type.
In the D&S Times (how it’s known locally) on 14 March, there were at least 400 reports on 64 news, features and sports pages in an 88-page paper – an impressive editorial ratio and story count in anyone’s book.
And each page was crafted with punchy and active headlines, detailed captions, carefully-levelled columns, panels and sections, and accurately-spelt place names.
In fact, it was almost as if there was a motivated team of, er, traditional sub-editors working on the title… but more on that later.
Here’s the headline clarity: ‘New plans for homes site but business area dropped’, page one; ‘Arrests after illegal hunting raids’, page two; ‘Quartet of couples at church share long marriage secrets’, page six; ‘Joy as national parks saved from ghost village threat’, page nine; and ‘Legal bill in row over horse reaches £150,000’, page 11.
Here’s more: ‘Residents speak out in favour of £2m hall plans’, page 13; ‘Caring Katrina sets out to ease heartache of stillbirth’, page 17; ‘Private companies set to run military bases like Catterick’, page 18; ‘Jacqui Cheer: The day I knew I had to join police’, page 19; ‘Lorry driver in deaths crash back on road in two years’, page 24; and ‘Jail for burglars who posed as golfers to raid clubhouses’, page 31.
Main news aside, the detailed six-point sections included: ‘Information service’ on page two – traffic, schools, health and weather; ‘Bridge notes’, page 11; ‘YFC reports’ (Young Farmers’ Clubs), page 26; ‘Market prices’, page 28; ‘Prices at the auction marts’, page 30; and ‘Weekend events’ listings, pages 35 and 36.
Deeper in the paper, from pages 57 to 60, was the ‘Town & Village’ section, with reports from the likes of Bilsdale, Chop Gate, Faceby, Seamer, Thorpe Thewles, Butterknowle, Heighington and Whorlton.
Other unusually spelt and sounding locations in the paper included Eaglescliffe, Guisborough, Barnard Castle, Osmotherley, Knaresborough, Brough, Grewelthorpe, Chester-le-Street, Middleton-in-Teesdale and Kirbymoorside.
Having once lived in North Yorkshire for three years (I used to dream of being the Great Fryup Dale correspondent), I was able to check the headlines, sub-headings, captions, listings and main copy throughout the D&S Times to see how many mistakes were made with these weird and wonderful place names.
And I can report that I was unable to spot one incorrectly spelt, nor could I find a single grammatical blooper, nor any missing captions – indeed, the majority of captions were three lines or longer, naming each and every person pictured, often with ages.
Put simply, the D&S Times has one hell of a subbing operation, perhaps no surprise given that all subs are (currently) based up north, their work scrutinised by editor Malcolm Warne, in the chair for 22 years, retaining a firm grip on the paper’s appearance, style and precision from his base in Darlington.
The care and attention that’s paid to every column and caption goes some way to explaining the paper’s circulation performance, with sales down just 4.9pc to a weekly average of 20,072 in 2013 – remarkably steady given that the cover price was £1, up from 75p in 2012.
The D&S Times has already coped with production change in recent times, with down-table subbing now carried out in Bradford, West Yorkshire – not local, but still regional and definitely up north.
But as a Newsquest paper, it’s now one of those due to be sent 220-plus more miles down the road to be subbed at Newport, South Wales – although I understand this project has now been delayed, with a latest transfer date of 7 May.
Before it’s ready, this far-flung hub will need substantial investment in quality sub-editors who care about northern people and northern detail, and robust systems that allow editors easy access to pages; because this newspaper’s readers and advertisers will immediately notice any slip in story count, accuracy or spelling.
Yes, I’m afraid I’m using that recently-maligned word ‘sub-editors’ again, and it’s because I believe finely-tuned newspapers like the D&S Times still need a few of them.