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Dyson at Large – How NOT to grab readers' attention

I felt a little cheated in my role as a roving reader when I picked up The Press.

‘MAN, 48, DIES IN YORK PARK’ screamed page one on 2 February, which had me thinking there must be something significant in the story.

Was it a fight, a shooting, a stabbing, perhaps a mugging gone wrong? No such drama, just an anonymous tramp who’d collapsed; disturbing and sad, but hardly headline news.

Was it just a quiet news day, with what should have been a page three stick pumped up to a splash because there was nothing else around?

Er, not quite. In a bizarre combination, the third par of the lead write-off read: “Meanwhile, in a separate incident a 13-year-old girl died after collapsing near her home.”

Whoah… hold the front page, stop the presses… a real story, surely worth a page one headline.

Not in The Press, which continued poor news judgement as the splash turned to a package on page five.

‘Police probe after park bushes death’ was the lead, again focusing on the unknown vagrant’s demise, with The Press even reporting “it is not known if he was from the local area.”

This and a picture of the said park took up two-thirds of the page, leaving only a down-page, second lead space for the far more remarkable ‘Girl, 13, dies after collapsing in alleyway.’

The Press had her name, her school, a tribute from her headmaster and more from her Facebook page, so what on earth prevented this being that day’s splash?

Page one is a newspaper’s only shop window, and it’s imperative to get the reader feeling you know what’s what by displaying the very best, the very latest, pulling them in for more.

Instead, this bad start primed me to spot meaningless headlines like ‘Horse manure complaints spark drive’ on page eight, and relentlessly repetitive shorts: ‘A cuppa and a chat,’ page 13; ‘Coffee morning,’ also page 13; ‘Come for coffee,’ page 15; ‘Coffee morning,’ page 17; ‘Coffee morning,’ (yes, another one), also page 17.

Where’s the blue pencil striking out similar (identical on page 17) headlines?

Another annoyance was constant internet cross-referencing. Yes, it’s important, but two per page in 20-point? And at least try to make them relevant and interesting.

I don’t mind subject specific information online being flagged, but head-banging furniture telling readers to go elsewhere for news is depressing.

Depressing and unreciprocated, by the way: not one page I surfed on advised me to buy the printed newspaper for anything.

Talking of boosting, how many ‘don’t miss tomorrow’’ lines were in the printed product?

There were five, which is not bad, but three advertised a free bottle of water on Thursday, only one boosting forthcoming editorial.

The Press is not alone here: all newspapers need to check how often they shout about what’s coming up… boosts from online as well as in paper.

The York newsroom has had a tough time of late, Newsquest forcing its editor to compete for his own job against the managing director just over a year ago.

It was good to see Kevin Booth clinching another chair at the Burton Mail, but cutbacks continued at York, its press closed and production moved to Bradford and more jobs going last February.

Such changes are stressful, but I only hope this edition was an aberration, and that editor Steve Hughes has enough resources to maintain morale and quality at a level to impress readers on most days.

Other points to highlight:

  • This 48-page Tuesday edition was on sale for 45p

  • There were 76 reports on 18 news pages, including six calls, 13 crime-related (two court) and six council/public services

  • Seven long letters on a page 10-11 spread

  • Although The Press’s editorials were on page ten, a three-page run of ‘Comment & Features’ sat on page 19 to 21, with a columnist’s views on Iraq displayed uncomfortably with a theatre review on page 19. These may have felt better as columns on news pages

  • An eight-page ‘Business Press’ was labelled ‘Firm Favourite’ in the page one boost, but its content was flaccid

  • Sport contained more enthusiasm; only 24 reports on seven pages but these were detailed and informative

  • The Press sold an average 30,722 in the Jan-to-June 2009 ABCs, 6.5pc down on 2008.

    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.


    JustifiedPessamism (17/02/2010 08:40:38)
    While there is something quite uncomfortable about a former editor, albeit one with some pedigree, pulling apart papers in ‘public’ like this, I must agree with Steve and ask why on earth the 13 year old death was not the splash – especially as they had all her personal details, tributes, and presumably a picture of her from Facebook. It seems a very odd one when you look at the actual splash and see they have none of these things about this dead man.

    Ex Mail journo (17/02/2010 09:06:42)
    From his biting comments it is hard not to reach the conclusion that Dyson is far more adept at ripping other papers to pieces than he was at producing one of his own. The massive decline in circulation that the Mail achieved under him hardly reflects to his credit. In an earlier blog he talked haughtily about the possibility of his returning to an editor’s chair at some point. Would anyone really want him to do that?

    Steve Dyson (17/02/2010 09:45:45)
    Good to see you keeping up, Ex Mail Journo. 😉

    Des Neely (17/02/2010 09:50:25)
    Isn’t it rather obvious that Steve Hughes does not have ‘enough resources to maintain morale and quality at a level to impress readers on most days’.
    And, Mr Dyson, isn’t that the real issue, apart from your obnoxius post

    davy gravy (17/02/2010 10:13:03)
    Actually, I think Steve’s right this time – a bit harsh, but right. You can’t blame lack of resource for not putting the dead girl on the front, since the Press clearly had the resource to get the full story (pics, tributes etc). Either this was a simple error of judgement, or they knew more about the dead tramp than they were able to publish. I’m guessing the former…

    Paul (17/02/2010 10:43:16)
    For once Steve Dyson has a well-put good point. You can’t blame lack of resources for missing the obvious splash story.

    Two_shanks (17/02/2010 10:44:17)
    Regardless of Dyson’s previous performance (or not) in the editors chair, this review is fair comment and could be applied to a number of local rags. The ‘perfect storm’ of recession / low ad revenues and the blogoshpere / free news is only part of the story. Print news might be able to survive, if the product is good quality. For that good editors need good reporters to find good stories with an understnding of the issues surrounding them, written in an informative and engaging way. Great blog this, and great discussion in the comments too – long may it continue

    Two_shanks (17/02/2010 10:45:16)
    Cr*p! Bring back subs!

    BarryJesus (17/02/2010 11:13:45)
    Harsh. But probably fair.
    Even with the cuts my paper has endured (down from five staff to 2.5), there’s no excuse for stuff like this.
    Still, I do hope my paper never gets the Dyson treatment.

    Richard Mason (17/02/2010 11:21:07)
    Why is sport such an afterthought here? For many people, sport i
    s the first port of call in a newspaper. You say it is detailed and informative, but that’s all you say about it. Tell us more. Just because it is at the back end of a newspaper doesn’t mean it should be considered less important. Many editors and unemployed editors should consider this.

    nationalhack (17/02/2010 13:45:37)
    No wonder the paper is losing readers. Whoever’s editing that paper needs a serious lesson in spotting a story.
    Even a wet-behind-the-ears trainee would be able to tell what was the splash.
    Perhaps it’s indicative of the sad demise of local papers..
    Pay me enough and I’ll come in and edit the Press!

    Dysonette (17/02/2010 14:45:02)
    I think some people on here are doing Steve Dyson an injustice. While the slump in sales was remarkable, you have to look at the diverse city it serves. It’s nigh on impossible to deliver one product to suit all tastes in Brum – but at least none of his splashes were as dire as this one

    Grey Cardigan (17/02/2010 15:57:02)
    Whatever Dyson did at the Mail is irrelevant. It’s fair comment on a piss-poor newspaper. I saw a copy a couple of weeks ago and was shocked by how quickly it had deteriorated.

    Jim Dunker (17/02/2010 15:57:27)
    Mate, if you think that’s bad, how about this headline they just published to Twitter et al: “BREAKING EXCLUSIVE: Claudia police arrest teenager” – which turns out to be simply some kid posting distasteful content on Facebook. Problem: “The newspaper’s job isn’t to report the news, it’s to sell newspapers”. Sigh.

    James Higgins (18/02/2010 11:19:05)
    I worked under Steve as News Editor, when he was Editor-in-Chief at The Bolton News. We had a daily in-depth chat about the best stories of the day, what we should splash on and the treatment we should give it. He was always very considered and had the nose for a news story you would expect of an editor. I suggest perhaps there is more to this situation than meets the eye, and to make snap judgments on the decision not to splash on the girl, without an understanding of the editorial reasons behing the decision, is a naive. Naive to the point, in fact, that doing so undermines many of the things Mr Dyson says.

    Steve Hughes (18/02/2010 13:39:10)
    I have just returned from holiday to be informed of your latest blog and feel it is only right, on behalf of my staff, to give you a little bit of context.
    Of course, the story about the 13-year-old girl is a more compelling story than the death of an unknown 48-year-old and, of course we knew it was strong enough to make the following day’s nationals.
    But, and it’s a big BUT, she didn’t die in our core area of York but in a village 22 miles away which is actually closer to Leeds than it is to York.
    With a little bit of research you would have discovered that we have another edition covering some of our outlying areas and the splash in that edition was: Girl, 13, Found Dead in Alley.
    Now, you could make an argument for that story to be the page 1 lead in both editions but experience and knowledge of our market tells us that our readers in York expect their local paper to concentrate on local news.
    Admittedly, the death in the park story was short on detail but York is not a big metropolitan city with a high crime rate and on the day it was the best story.
    And I guess we’ve all had days like that Steve.
    Maybe I’ll dust off some old Evening Gazettes.
    Point taken about the coffee mornings, however.

    Steve Hughes (18/02/2010 13:47:29)
    To Jim Dunker,
    This is the same story which is in most of the nationals today and is much more than some kid posting distasteful content on Facebook. Perhaps you should read the full story.

    Steve Dyson (18/02/2010 15:20:31)
    Good of Steve Hughes to come back with the context. I still feel the 13-year-old was strong enough to be all-round… esp against the splash that was. And Selby district should surely be claimed as The Press’ patch and jealously guarded from the Leeds papers, esp with the mobility of readers in these modern times? But these are opinions, and as editor you are right to stand by your on-day rationale. What was really good news was learning that your district edition splashed it (and, according to Google news, that The Press had it the day before the YEP).
    Most importantly, you’re right about all papers sometimes having those days, so I pledge to come back unannounced later this year to review The Press again (assuming Htfp keep this blog going!)
    Thanks for being up front, Steve H.

    A Nonny Mouse (18/02/2010 16:42:10)
    What a shame, Mr Dyson, that you didn’t do your research properly before going off on one and doing your bit for falling staff morale. Shouldn’t a good journalist offer a right to reply before spouting off in public, or are you from the ‘publish and be damned’ school of journlism?

    Steve Dyson (18/02/2010 18:09:44)
    This is a review blog and, as per all reviews, starts with the opinion of the reviewer on what he sees. (Imagine a restaurant review with the chef’s case, a book review with the author’s angle or a theatre review with the director’s defence.) The point of Dyson at Large is to throw the spotlight on our under-reported regional press, good and bad, with an unannounced sketch on how one reader perceives it. Feedback and context welcome as comments thereafter. Keep up Nonny Mouse!

    Arfur Storey (19/02/2010 09:41:01)
    Steve Hughes is right when he says that the girl’s village doesn’t fall in heartland territory for The Press. But surely really good stories transcend boundaries, particularly as in this case there is such a strong link with Selby anyway. Nope, poor judgement call for me Steve sorry…

    Wanderer (19/02/2010 10:11:28)
    James, if you were news editor when Steve was editor of the Bolton News, then I’m sure you’ll agree The Bolton News is a vastly superior paper now to what it was in previous years. As for all these questions about what gives Steve the right to comment on other papers – this blog is a critic’s blog. Can all restaurant reviewers cook? Can music reviewers all sing? It’s one opinion, based on one edition of a paper. Pointing out something else was the splash in another edition is rather like an aggrieved restaurant manager saying “Actually, the man next to you had a brilliant dish, with great flavours and great taste” to try and justify why the meal you had wasn’t that good.

    IJ (19/02/2010 13:06:30)
    This blog is always an interesting read, but Steve really should do his research. Why on earth would the Press want to splash with a story more than 20 miles off patch? That’s what papers have district editions for. The idea of just putting the biggest story on the front page, regardless of geography, is akin to saying there is no point to local journalism at all.
    I’ve got no gripes with Steve criticising other papers despite his own failings in the big chair, but such a shoddy effort isn’t really good enough. If you want to make such sweeping statements about the quality of an editor, you really need to get all your facts together first. Don’t forget the basics, Steve.

    Steve Dyson (19/02/2010 13:10:29)
    Hmm, ‘fraid we’ll have to agree to disagree there, IJ… the 13-year-old death was good enough for all-round in my opinion… and that remains unchanged by the district village argument. (Check the story out and you’ll see the girl had only just moved there from Selby High School, even more ‘on-patch’ for The Press). But the debate’s been good. Let’s move on.

    AJinexile (23/02/2010 11:03:19)
    The Press deserved a hammering on this story — sloppy reporting aided and abetted by even sloppier subbing. The teenage death was the splash angle, with a photo from the family album or Facebook — not a tired shot of the park where the 48-year-old ‘mystery man’ was found dead. I do not know Steve Dyson and cannot comment on his time in the editor’s chair, but his ‘no prisoners taken’ approach when looking at the regional press is the sought of stuff that should be compulsory reading for all those brave yo
    ung masochists who still see a future in journalism.

    AJinexile (23/02/2010 11:06:30)
    That should have read ‘sort’ not ‘sought’ — shows why I’m in exile….