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Dyson at Large: Murder, hard news and local value

Readers of last week’s Kent Messenger were given a cracking news service, with no fewer than SEVEN pages devoted to a major family murder trial.

Headlined ‘TORN APART’, the grisly but fascinating story was the splash on 17 December with pictures of the murder victim, his brother, the two nephews who’d killed him and his sister-in-law also jailed for watching the violence.

You’ll note there were two ‘DEAD’ picture labels, and yet there was only one murder – Bill Treeby having hanged himself in his prison cell three days before the sentencing.

Bill, along with his sons Billy and George, had murdered his brother Jack by repeatedly running him over with a Range Rover after a furious row over their mother’s will.

Bill’s wife Charity had callously watched as another brother, Gary, had been shot and beaten in the same attack, although he somehow managed to survive.

The mayhem and bloodshed took place nearly a year before in a Maidstone street in front of dozens of eyewitnesses, and was clearly the story of the year in the Kent town.

This was fully reflected by the Messenger’s coverage of the ‘Treeby murder verdicts’ on three spreads inside, which included:

  • ‘You hunted them down ruthlessly, with no mercy’ leading page four, the main sentencing report with judge’s comments;
  • ‘Brother found dead after barricading himself inside cell’ on page five, recording the dad’s suicide;
  • ‘Pub row that ended in carnage’ on page six, the main backgrounder on the row and insults that led to the murder;
  • ‘They were the worst injuries I’d ever seen’ on page seven, recalling the sights greeting the first police officers on the crowed murder scene;
  • ‘BROTHERS AT WAR’ on page eight, detailing the notorious family rivalry; and
  • ‘Couple kept to themselves on 14-acre country site’ on page nine, detailing neighbours’ memories of the main couple involved.

    After a nine-week trial, the timing of the conviction and sentencing couldn’t have been better, coming on the Messenger’s Wednesday deadline day for its Friday publication date.

    And editor Bob Bounds made the most of this luck, leading his news team to detail the entire case and backgrounders, recording the two life sentences for the nephews and the eight-year jailing of their mother for GBH.

    As a stranger to Kent, these seven pages alone kept me captivated for a good half-hour read, so you can imagine how popular this was for local readers.

    What other media would or could have covered the case in anywhere near as much depth?

    I’d like to bet that this led to a rise in Messenger sales last week, and would be delighted if someone from the family-owned KM Group publishers would let me know when they get the figures through.

    In the main book of 72-pages, there were another 145 news, comment and features reports on 28 pages.

    But that was without counting more than 200-plus reports from 41 community correspondents crammed in between pages 41 and 45.

    Nor did this count include a cheery ‘Spirit of Christmas’ school nativities section from pages 33 to 40, itself containing hundreds of smiling kids in a total of 40 pictures from 18 local schools.

    The main news pages were packed with plenty of hard stories and political reports, numerous courts and council stories and detailed planning applications and chemists’ lists.

    Yes, this is all basic stuff, but it’s great to see a news desk ensuring all these are painstakingly gathered and printed for the local value they provide.

    There were another 40-plus stories on seven pages of sport, plus the usual results and tables in four-point.

    And just to make sure readers had something to do over Christmas, there was a 48-page What’s On pull-out with all the regular films, theatre and music events, plus a three-week festive TV guide lasting until 6 January.

    This 120-page package had a decent cover price of just 80p, but still the latest ABC audit recorded a -6.9pc decline on 2009, with weekly sales of 41,410 for the Messenger series.

    Although this is a below average decline, I do hope it flattens out once the recession is over for a publisher that clearly cares about the product, determinedly investing in useful content for readers.

    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.


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    • December 22, 2010 at 12:16 pm

      Great stuff. What strikes me is that despite having a massive story and giving it several-picture treatment, they’ve still managed to get some good boosts for other parts of the paper in there. At my previous paper the story would’ve been made a wipeout splash without question. I understand that impulse but have always thought local papers need to show, with every front page, that they’re packed with value and variety. Full marks to the newsdesk for recognising this and to subs/designers for coming up with a page which holds together coherently.

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    • December 22, 2010 at 3:53 pm

      Agree with much of Ex-newsed’s views. The Messenger did a great job on this. But can we please get rid of ‘SPECIAL’. Look at the Nativity plug. It’s a picture special special pullout. Subs should have spotted and changed that.

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    • December 22, 2010 at 6:37 pm

      It reads like a great paper. Real investment in content. Is this not also the paper that employs Paul Francis, one of the best political hacks in the regional press? But more than all that. It’s a family group. Does that tell the industry anything??

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    • January 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm

      IS this not the same newspaper group that wants to make more sweeping redundancies but hasn’t got enough hard cash to pay everyone off?

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