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Dyson at Large: Explosive splash in skinny book

One of the biggest stories to hit Worcester so far in 2010 occurred last week with a suspected bomb in the city centre.

This was no case of a simple scare and quick evacuation, best ignored by the media.

This was a major event, affecting hundreds if not thousands of office workers, shutting down major roads through the city for more than four hours before a controlled explosion.

And so, quite rightly, the Worcester News covered every angle in the next day’s edition, Wednesday 3 March.

‘BOMB SCARE’ was the impactful splash headline in 120-point, beneath dramatic pictures of bomb disposal experts, police and firemen.

‘City centre evacuated as suspect parcel is blown up’ was the simple underline, with the full story on pages four and five.

The big picture and headline were good selling points, and I bet this ‘what you see is what you get’ showcase style brought a solid sales rise from everyone wanting to know what had disturbed their previous day.

On the inside spread were another eleven pictures from the drama, with more than 25 members of the public clearly identifiable, (remember that old adage: ‘people make pictures sell papers’).

The 26-par report gave the detail, and I loved the quote from Judge John Cavell, clearly annoyed at the evacuation of Worcester Crown Court: “We’ve had a difficult interruption. It’s very unfortunate; we’ve all had to put up with it.”

In terms of capturing casual readers, though, what a shame that this great splash came on such a skinny day for the Worcester News.

At 36-pages, this was the tightest daily paper I’ve witnessed since a 32-pager in Hartlepool last year, and this coming on what for Worcester was ‘Jobs’ day (although job adverts only made up two pages).

I got hold of the Thursday 4 March Worcester News as well, and with a 48-page ‘Property’ section was then treated to a total of 80-pages for the same 40p cover price.

Massively differing paginations through the week is not a new issue, of course, but at a time when readers need little excuse to wander, it’s a relevant satisfaction point for all dailies to ponder.

One critical editorial point: especially because of the small size of the paper, I thought that just 46 stories on 17 news pages was an area for improvement in the Wednesday Worcester News.

Those that made it were fine… a healthy mixture of council, crime, court, charity, community and celebrity.

I particularly liked the page two picture story headlined ‘I think I’ve seen your face before’, describing how a reader had bumped into US actor Dirk Benedict in a Worcester pub (he of Lieutenant Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck fame in A-Team, for those too young to recall).

‘Have you ever met someone famous?’ might have been a good come-on idea here, prompting similar ‘like me’ tales.

I was impressed with the quality of nature and wildlife snaps used on the ‘Readers’ pictures’ page, and with the fact that only the one page was devoted to this cute but cheap ‘citizen journalism’, (I reckon readers can feel cheated at more than a page of this a day).

It’s nearly three years now since Kevin Ward succeeded former stalwart editor Stewart Gilbert at the Worcester News.

A nice touch, then, that Gilbert’s continued local interests as a district Rotarian are still highlighted in the paper, a page 18 report telling how local Rotary clubs raised up to £80,000 for the Haiti earthquake disaster relief.

At the same time, it is obvious that Ward has carefully modernised the paper, a clear, consistent design, snappy intros and occasional bespoke cross-references to relevant online content featured throughout the book.

Something I’ve never seen anywhere else before was the ‘It’s a rollover’ £200 spot cash prize for readers, carried in the centre of a page of 24 small adverts, each potentially carrying a clue. This competition was boosted on page one on the Wednesday and Thursday.

What a clever idea… daily cash prizes for readers funded via a profitable page of small ads. Watch that idea grow around fellow regionals, let alone Newsquest titles!

In sport, there were a total of 36 reports on five pages, which was a much better story count, and a first person, picture-bylined half-page from Worcester City manager Carl Heeley provided a fine chunk of content.

Finally, I rate the deep red Worcester News masthead, which makes the title stand out in the newsagents and avoids any headline clash.

  • The Worcester News sold 15,466 daily in 2009, down -6.3% on 2008 according to the latest ABCs.

    Read Steve’s previous blog posts here

  • Steve Dyson worked in the regional press for 20 years, editing weekly, Sunday and daily newspapers in the North East and the Midlands from 2002 until the end of 2009. To contact him, email

    Steve’s blog is available via an RSS feed. Click here to subscribe.


    fudgy (10/03/2010 10:01:35)
    Steve, any chance of seeing some of the inside pages you talk about? It would make a welcome addition to your words.
    Also, why I agree the masthead stands out, is there any need for at least six different typefaces on page one?

    Steve Dyson (10/03/2010 10:49:10)
    Hi Fudgy: I’ll have a word with the Htfp editor about inside pages. We had agreed on not too many images, but if he agrees we’ll try to use an inside scan as well. I see your point on page one fonts, but I think the differentiation helps both the headline and the masthead stand-out. Sometimes, using the same font for boosts can be visually confusing. The biggest hurdle for me was the blocky ad on page 1. I do think editors should insist on minimum design standards for page one ads.

    Lord Lucan (10/03/2010 11:52:33)
    Interesting headline debate today on a Worcester News story

    Ian Wishart (10/03/2010 12:20:22)
    The Worcester News has always been a wonderful paper because it knows its audience very well indeed, decides what sort of product it wants to be and does it very well. This is what truly local (in the most positve sense of the word possible) newspapers used to be like but while so many have lost their way, the Worcester News continues to excel because it has stayed true to its roots and because it has had a very talented team of reporters and other editorial staff for many years. Really happy it got such a good review here.