The front of the Durham Times seemed to have been thrown together too quickly on 17 July, with bland headline words and an overall lack of impact.
Government cuts lead
… read the top line, frozen in mid-active sentence, and momentarily making me play around with the homophone ‘lead’ …
to loss of jobs at college
… went the second line, only making sense once re-read, if anyone could be bothered to read that dull summary again.
The flat, uninformative headline appeared above what was quite a well-written story, full of human interest, drama and facts, so it could have been personalised with proper nouns and detail. How about:
Osborne’s cuts hit jobs at
… as a first, better-flowing line, with …
Brasside disabled college
… as the second line, spelling out how the Chancellor’s austerity drive is hitting specific local services – and much better for search engine optimisation once online.
The reason I’m being so pedantic is that I know this newspaper’s editor could, and ideally would, do so much better.
Not only is Peter in the chair at the daily Northern Echo, but he also has to run the weekly Darlington and Stockton Times cat-killer as well as the Durham Times, along with various other weeklies and all their websites.
Even if Peter, or one of his trusty lieutenants, had the time to write quality headlines for each and every weekly, I’m pretty sure that responsibility’s been taken away from them by Newsquest’s controversial switch of production to a subbing hub 270 miles away in South Wales.
That’s certainly the impression the rest of the front page made: ‘BIG MEETING’ and ‘THE JOURNEY’ were the dull words used for the main boost headlines, their pictures either so tiny (the miners’ event) or so dark (the sculpture) that they were pretty useless.
And the ‘News briefs’ down the left-hand column would have been fine as informative nibs for inside news or entertainments pages, but what on earth were forthcoming bike fun days, organ recitals, college dances and local hikes doing on page one?
There were plenty of far more relevant and important news and sports stories elsewhere in the Times that a good sub could and should have used for succinct write-offs, such as:
- ‘Streets stay clear despite warning of big traffic jams’ leading page six;
- ‘Businessman helps charity after theft’ leading page seven;
- ‘Teenager hanged himself at care home, inquest rules’ leading page 10; and
- ‘Failure to walk lands captain with three disciplinary points’ leading the back page.
These and many other stories were good reads, but it was frustrating to find missing details or unanswered questions because of the clumsy way pages had been put together.
Take the Durham Miners’ Gala spread on pages two and three: among the pictures randomly used was a close-up of well-known artist Grayson Perry and a lead picture of Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham, but neither were referred to in the story (or if they were, these mentions had been cut).
The spread was headlined to evoke a yawn from readers:
Community enjoys a
fun-filled day in the
sun at Miners’ Gala
Yet with Jeremy Corbyn also present, along with ASLEF’s Tosh McDonald, Unite’s Len McClusky and others, it could so easily have been something more relevant like:
Labour rivals, union
bosses and famous
artist at Miners’ Gala
I could go on, but the point’s made: this newspaper’s lacking the caring, detailed touches that traditional local subs can and once did bring, to the detriment of the reader’s experience.
I hope Peter and his troops in Darlington and Durham know these production criticisms are not aimed at those who fill the Times and its above-mentioned sister titles with quality journalism.
But I believe they’re being let down by the mediocrity of long-distance, central production hubs with a ‘that will do’ attitude, a lack of experience or a shortage of time to do better.
Further inside the paper, I enjoyed discovering how veteran ex-editor Malcolm Warne is keeping fed and watered since he retired from the D&S Times, his ‘Filling but not too thrilling BBQ’ restaurant review appearing on page 24 (credit where it’s due: that headline worked).
Food writing captivates when done well, and Malcolm’s measured criticism of the Route 59 venue at Durham’s Marriott Royal County Hotel did just that, with some lovely turns of phrase.
After ripping the proverbial out of the “beancounters” who came up with the crazy idea of opening a Tex-Mex barbecue joint in a traditional English hotel, he went on to hilariously describe his horror at what arrived on his plate.
“The hog skin was half a dozen or so long strips of rock-like pork crackling with a pot of apple sauce. They might have been good but I couldn’t eat them.
“Had the dish come with a small pneumatic drill, it would have made no difference. We were full but seriously underwhelmed and skipped desserts.”
Good old Malcolm – and the same salutation to other content providers at the Durham Times. But someone, please, tell Newsquest that its central subbing hub needs more resource, training or probably both.
Fact file: the Durham Times’ costs 60p where sold, and on 17 July was a 44-page paper carrying around 150 reads.
It no longer seems to have an ABC certificate, but Newsquest’s says 52pc of 5,300 copies are paid-for and that it “reaches more adults in Durham city than any other paid for publication”.