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Dyson at Large: How locals create national splashes

Did you spot that heart-rending splash in the Daily Mail last Wednesday?

‘THE CHOICE NO MOTHER SHOULD FACE’ was the headline, telling how when Rachel Edwards’ car plunged into a dyke with her two children inside she only had a split second chance to choose which one to save.

It was a belter, a gripping story that would have brought tears to the eyes of the hardest readers, especially anyone with children.

And not only did it make the Daily Mail: a quick search on Google shows another 89 news articles from the same day, including The Sun and most other nationals, the BBC, Sky, et al.

But what most of the world does not know is that this very story was page one of the Derby Telegraph the day before, after nearly a week of painstaking research and double death-knocks by the local team.

Their original story used a full chat with the grieving mother as well as another conversation with the father, the couple being separated.

And all the quotes and pick-up pictures used by the Daily Mail were a direct lift from the Telegraph, showing that as far as the national news desk was concerned their sister title in Derby had ‘done the full job’.

It hadn’t been an easy story to find: the tragedy occurred near Boston, Lincolnshire back on 19th August, and had not been picked up by anyone else; and the mother, Rachel, although originally from Mickleover, Derbyshire, now lives in Essex, so the tale was not necessarily going to be found from the East Midlands.

The fact it was picked up was down to the old-fashioned principle of ‘reading your BMDs’ that is hammered into Derby Telegraph news journalists from the day they start at the paper, one of many principles used by editor Steve Hall and deputy Neil White.

The Telegraph carried this small classified advert about the death of the 16-year-old son, Jack Brennan, in its ‘Family Announcements’ on 1st September.

It was the words “Taken from us on 19th August following an accident in Lincolnshire” that flicked the newsdesk’s antenna.

Although I don’t know the full details of the trail, I guess the facts that the lad had kept his dad’s surname and that the dad still lived in nearby Alvaston was how what must have been a careful story chase started.

This incidence of ‘national splashes created by local news skills’ is, of course, an everyday occurrence across the UK; but it was encouraging to stumble across the detail of a prime example in Derby last week.

The Telegraph proudly carries the fact that it has been ‘reporting local life since 1879′ in a line beneath its masthead.

It was locally owned back then, initially appearing as a four-page broadsheet costing a halfpenny, its first editor WJ Piper in the chair for 39 years until his death in 1918.

Now owned by Northcliffe, the title has faced the same squeeze as most regionals in the current recession, but I was impressed with the way it’s managed to retain a newsiness that makes its 35p cover price a bargain. Other top tales on Tuesday 7th September included:

  • The trial of a woman accused of holding down a 13-year-old girl while her partner allegedly raped her on page five.

  • Calls for a new bylaw to fine residents who leave wheelie bins on the street on page six.

  • New figures revealing how nine local GPs were earning up to £300,000 a year.

    In a 40-page main book, there were: 104 news stories on 17 news pages; another 14 reads on an ‘Opinions’ and letters spread; 30 reports and, in four-point, a half page of racing and a near full page of results and tables on seven pages of sport; and a 500+ word ‘Short Story’ in what appeared to be a regular slot for readers on page 23.

    Inserted into this was Tuesday’s 12-page Business Weekly wrapped round a 20-page ‘FindaProperty’ section, both of which made the day’s paper one of reasonable thickness.

    Like many in the regional press, the Telegraph has seen squeezes, both in staffing numbers due to recessionary cutbacks and, in previous years, when district offices were closed.

    This partly explains a 7.5 per cent drop in circulation to 35,075 in the Latest ABCs.

    So I’m pleased to have been able to review a copy which highlights its newsy grassroots to ultimate bosses Daily Mail and General Trust.

    They should do their very best not to cut off their regional noses lest they spite their national face.

  • Sex ad rating: 7 out of 10. There were chatlines, but these had no blatant phrases or images. And while there were ‘massage parlours,’ their services were upspoken and a panel warned that adverts in the ‘Personal Services’ section must be pre-paid with bank cards, that verified names and addresses must be provided and that the paper would “forward information to relevant authorities upon request.”

    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

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    ajinexile (15/09/2010 10:58:37)
    Nice to know that reporting as we once knew it is alive and kicking up in Derby. Would have been nice if you had named and famed the byliner on this story, and I hope the DM (alias National Enquirer on line these days)did the right thing by him/her.

    Chris Maguire (15/09/2010 11:20:13)
    Out of the smallest acorns grow the biggest oak trees. It’s an example of good journalism and the role played by the local press

    Chris Maguire (15/09/2010 11:20:15)
    Out of the smallest acorns grow the biggest oak trees. It’s an example of good journalism and the role played by the local press

    Hilary (15/09/2010 11:51:10)
    Cynically…if the local story had been in a JP or a Newsquest paper, would that have stoppped the Daily Mail from lifting it wholesale? And did the other nationals pay for their versions? Normally when the nationals swipe a good local story we howl with rage. Why not now?

    Biter (15/09/2010 12:32:06)
    I thought the story was well overplayed tbf, not by the local paper, but the nationals.
    The headline in the D Mail flew against the facts of the story, obscured other salient facts, and gave a misleading headline.

    Steve Dyson (15/09/2010 15:25:46)
    It’s a good point, ‘ajinexile’. The byline on this Derby tel scoop was one Rachel Butler. Re. ‘Hilary’s’ point, my experience was that national staffers in the regions often paid local news agencies for rewrites/checks… even when the regional was in the same group. Pictures are often sold on, but again mainly via local news agencies. Not many regionals hav developed decent syndication systems, although Manchester’s was said to be worth six-figures a year pre-Trinity.

    overworked and underpaid (15/09/2010 16:28:41)
    I echo Hilary’s comment and add what we all know, that local journalists rarely see a penny, their stories are usually ripped of by local news agencies and sold on.

    Gravy (15/09/2010 16:58:07)
    I agree with the points made about local agencies. I remember on one occasion I sent over a story to a national the night before my paper came out. I was pleased to see it appear as a page lead a day later but when I called to make sure my payment had been processed they said they had used the agency copy I told them that I had sent my copy through first and even logged a phone call to flag it up b
    efore I sent it. After several minutes’ debate the agreed to bung me over £50 but I’m sure the agency got the full fee. It’s a losing battle but hats off to Rachel Butler and co for digging out the story. Great work.