We’ve had a fair few cries of down-trodden anguish from posters in recent months.
Earnest messages such as: ‘How can you expect us to get a quality paper out on such small staffs?’
Or: ‘What do you expect when they’ve taken all our subs away’.
And I’m sure some of these journalists under the cosh, or ex-journalists who left because of the same, have a point.
But every so often you come across a paper that’s almost certainly had the same cost-cutting edicts and multimedia pressures yet, somehow, still manages to hit the newsstands in a near-perfect state.
Take a bow editor Perry Austin-Clarke and staff, because that’s what I found when I picked up their Bradford Telegraph & Argus on Wednesday 17 March.
As with all newspapers, the front page has to be at least ‘good’ to have anything like a positive review on this blog, and the T&A’s was far and away the best to date.
Yes, a six-deck splash headline in caps would have worried me in theory, but its calm size worked really well in practice, grabbing both the drama and humanity of a major news story.
‘TEENAGER SCREAMED IN TERROR AS GANG STABBED HIM TO DEATH’ spoke clearly to so many different types of readers, from schoolchildren to teachers, parents and grandparents.
The fatal stabbing took place in the early hours of the previous day, giving the T&A a full 24-hours to work on the story.
They did not waste the opportunity, a decent collect of the named victim appeared on page one with a scene shot and write-off, then an impressive 56 paragraphs of copy in a lead and second lead on pages two and three.
The spread contained detailed comments from police, named eyewitnesses, several lengthy tributes and another four pictures.
This was the sort of tale that could easily be forgiven for being given ‘wipe-out’ treatment, and yet there was a column with a top and five shorts on page two, and another top above a 15×4 ad on page three.
Page one drove home this insistence on entry points, with a tightly-written column of four write-offs, a simple but informative weather panel and a clear 3cm strap boost above the masthead.
Indeed, the T&A’s story count deserves to be shown off: 127 tales on 18 news and business pages is a phenomenal performance.
There wasn’t much ‘churnalism’ in sight either, the page five lead giving you a taste of the hard news angles: ‘Gunman gets 10 years for revenge shooting’.
And no, it wasn’t all violent crime, the ‘Drunk instructor fell off her bike’ on page seven producing lightness without the use of a flower picture.
The full page 24 of ‘Community News’ had a commercial angle that was new to me…each suburb heading was sponsored by a small display ad from the same locality.
This resulted in eight little adverts on 17 March, enough to fund the linage (I hope it was used mainly for this) paid to the ‘community correspondents’ pictured on the page with home telephone numbers.
On top of this was a stylishly written, 23-par analysis feature on regeneration next to the page eight editorials, with seven letters and nine republished web comments on page nine, and a spot-on guide to readers: “No letter will be published without a name and postal address.”
It was around about here that I realised another element that gave the T&A the feel of a real newspaper: 50pc of all pages were black and white.
Whether this was press restrictions or Austin-Clarke’s traditionalism I know not, but I think it contributed to the quality.
Should others rethink the front-to-back colour that can be so gaudy?
Two other idiosyncrasies that weirdly worked for me: TV listings were on the spread behind the back page of sport; and puzzles and stars appeared on the next page back before another four pages of sport.
This made a 12-page ‘Move Magic’ pull-out feel much more of a treat, coming as it did between pages and pages of hard news.
The supplement, celebrating Bradford’s status as the world’s first UNESCO film city, gave readers a total of 56 pages for 45p…a tad expensive, but worth every penny.
I was only disappointed when I researched the T&As ABC sales figures, down -11.2pc to 30,218 between December 2008 and 2009.
Assuming 17 March was evidence of the quality produced every day, this dip was in no major way due to the performance of the editorial team.
So come on Newsquest, (publishers of the T&A). You’ve got a fantastic paper here, clearly one of best in class from your ‘evening’ division.
It’s time to dig deep as we clamber out of the recession and invest in some meaningful marketing across Bradford for your title.
And don’t you dare tamper too much with the team’s resources needed to produce such an inspiring product!
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AJinexile (07/04/2010 10:22:40)
I agree that strong black and white shots add more impact to a story than the Jacob’s coat approach.
Those sales figures rang warning bells: assuming that the T & A edition described is not a ‘one-off’ and that all editions are equally as punchy, there is something seriously wrong with the dive in sales: the problem is not just that of T & A. People are just not buying papers as they once did — and as I am sure we all know, a new business model is desparately needed.
Steve Dyson (07/04/2010 10:42:43)
Maybe, AJinexile. But remember the marketing point I made. I know that almost ALL regionals have spent nearly NOTHING on brand presence or telling people about themselves in recent years. The many towns I’ve visited recently all have so many outdated, aging bill-boards, fascias, etc (if they have any). Imagine a really good Mars bar… seriously the best one ever tasted. Now imagine how many sales it would experience if there was NO advertising, little and mainly out-dated brand presence, etc. Just a thought.
Paul (07/04/2010 10:55:47)
This dive in sales is nothing new at the T&A. It’s been a downward spiral for more than a decade and if you ask the good folk of Bradford there are a multitude of reasons why, including putting TV listings among the sport pages, continually messing around with editions for the past five years, the web policy. The news patch is awesome and the coverage in the paper – particularly the one Steve has reviewed – almost certainly reflects that. But the journalists’ good work is not getting the full reward it deserves.
Terry Graphandargus (07/04/2010 10:59:35)
Your last sentence is a brilliant point, but I fear it will fall on deaf ears, especially where Newsquest is concerned.
Subs are looking at the JP Atex trials and fearing for their futures, while MDs are looking at the system thinking “that sounds like a good idea”….
AJinexile (07/04/2010 12:09:46)
Steve, I agree with what you say — and promotion could start at home. I took a look at the T & A online. They point to a Facebook link, a Twitter link — but nothing to push more print copies. Or am I just showing my age — back to the Adler portable, and where’s my Cable and Wireless charge card
Onlooker (07/04/2010 14:35:15)
AJinexile has a serious point about the sales. Time was when I would have gone along with Steve and agreed it is a good paper. But how can it be described as such if people clearly d
on’t want to buy it?
Steve Dyson (07/04/2010 15:01:04)
I don’t want to hog the comments board, Onlooker, but I am keen to emphasise the need to market a product. That some titles are losing 10% a year with no marketing whatsoever is pretty incredible, and actually shows the power of the press! That’s my view anyway.
Aragon (07/04/2010 15:43:01)
It is often difficult to reconcile Mr Dyson’s opinions with that of readers. Let’s face facts, we are meant to be producing papers that people actually want to read. To simplify matters, if they don’t buy them, then the papers are failing – whatever the circumstances in which they are produced, or how little is spent on promoting them. I was always brought up to believe “if it is good enough, people will buy it.” Other Nerwsquest papers labour under similar financial constraints but enjoy far better circulation performance. In recent columns Mr Dyson has heaped high praise on the T&A which has lost literally tens of thousands of readers in the last decade and the Essex Chronicle, which was the second worst performing paid for title in the whole of Essex with a decline in sales of 7.8 per cent – a figure Mr Dyson, in his lavish praise of the Editor, mysteriously failed to mention.
Onlooker (07/04/2010 16:00:06)
Aragon has put it much better than I did. Steve previously trashed Yorkshire Evening Post and York Press, yet their sales down only 5.7% and 6.5% compared to the 11.2% of the “good” Telegraph and Argus. I would actually agree with Steve’s judgement on the 3 papers, yet the sales figures would indicate that the readers don’t.
Steve Dyson (07/04/2010 16:02:18)
Yet surey, Aragon, (yes, here I go again), you realise that there are multiple factors affecting sales. The recession, fragmentation of the media, free internet news summaries, cut-backs hitting quality hitting sale, overnight competition with the nationals. My point is that with all this going on, you have to market your product even harder, you have to re-establish your brand. More pointedly, you have to highlight the best and nudge the mediocre.
Onlooker (07/04/2010 16:11:47)
Ah, overnight competition with the nationals. I always said that when evenings became mornings (and most of them have)most customers in the shop would go for the national rather than the local. I suspect I was right.
Paul (07/04/2010 16:27:55)
But as I said Steve, this isn’t an overnight drop in sales, nor just one in the last six months figures you quoted. The paper was selling 120,000+ sales about 15 years ago. It has lost three-quarters of its customers. It once prided itself as “read by nine out of ten local people”. Where have they all gone? And do the T&A know where they have gone? The product has continually changed, their are loads of comments online about the product, it has also gone to a morning, the number of editions have changed and changed and changed, and people have changed to reading it online rather than buying the paper. Too much messing around with what was once a quality product and I bet no-one ever asked the readers.
Aragon (07/04/2010 17:40:39)
I agree with your comments Steve. The industry is such a shambles it is diffuclt to know where to start. We give away our core product – news -free on the internet while failing to generate meaningful revenue from the websites. We cut costs, and quality, to try and maintain unrealistic profit margins that other sectors would be green with envy over even in their current reduced state. We have seen motors, property and recruitment advertising revenues collapse to the web and failed to control the sectors in their new domain. However, my point still stands, you are praising products that are performing badly in comparison to other papers, in similar markets, and facing the same cuts, loss of promotion and marketing etc. Surely part of the industry’s problem is we give we readers what WE think they want, in the face of damning sales evidence they dont want it. Perhaps your column would be better served examining papers that are succesful and analysing why, rather than lavishing praise on those which are failing at their fundamental function, to sell copies.
Steve Dyson (07/04/2010 18:04:59)
Paul and Aragon make interesting points. Mine remains this… It’s time for the industry to walk tall and invest in telling a crowded world that its products are still there and still relevant. Thanks for all input. Don’t miss next week’s blog which discusses council ‘newspapers’.
Adam Threeways (08/04/2010 15:25:15)
I’ll tell you where all the readers are going – they’re ending up as small boxes on the BMDs pages.
Steve is right – with no marketing, no attempt to actually sell the papers to people, in an industry that has failed to reinvent itself to keep up with the times, run by soulless, unimaginative generic managers, the readers are dying.
Add into this the atmosphere of terror that shackles editors to churning out the same old stuff, day after day, not rocking the boat, not daring to try anything new, hands tied by bureaucracy, and you have the perfect recipe for a dead industry.
Why would any young people pick up the paper these days? Where are the attempts to attract new readers? What is the industry’s overall gameplan? Is there one? Or are we all meant to sit here and accept this stagnation and decay while banks cream off their pounds of flesh and bureaucrats pocket their big fat bonuses until the ship finally sinks?