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Dyson at Large: Seaside paper packed full of detail

My eye for something different in a local newspaper has become keen and hungry in the last eight months. So I was pleased to spot several new or certainly freshly recycled ideas in the Scarborough Evening News of Wednesday 18 August.

‘All Aboard’ was my favourite column in sport on page 37 with a picture and detailed graphics telling active readers where and when to catch the top local surf. What better way for a seaside town daily to get its trendy young beachcombers thumbing through its pages?

The summer season was reflected again on page 15 with a column called ‘Beach Watch’ penned by RNLI lifeguard Gareth Oxley, on this occasion explaining all there is to know about jellyfish, as well as records of recent beach activity.

And I liked ‘The Sky at night’ section on page 16, with a local astronomer describing the shapes to be seen in local clear skies in August, complete with useful picture graphics.

But most fascinating of all was a double page ‘Night Out’ section picturing dozens of locals enjoying themselves at pubs and clubs around town on pages 30 and 31.

The News sends a photographer around venues every week, with the resulting spread packed full of happy Scarborough faces smiling for the camera.

An expensive use of space? Maybe, but it was a definite case of ‘people make picture sell papers’ to my mind, plus the News then sells the snaps in different sizes for prices ranging from £7 to £14.30.

This feature therefore not only spreads a little happiness and provides great branding for the town’s main media, it brings in a little revenue as well.

The examples above are just four reasons to applaud editor Ed Asquith and his team based at the Yorkshire resort.

It can’t be easy running a small daily newspaper in 2010, what with the operating shadows of declining circulations and narrowing profitability margins, coupled with the ever present industry doom-mongers sniping from the sidelines.

But it’s interesting to note that the News’ decline of 5.8 per cent was one of the lowest in last week’s ABC report, the Johnston Press title selling an average of 11,359 a day, six days a week.

It sounds small and is indeed one of the tiniest sales figures in the UK in what was the traditional ‘evening’ market.

But remember this is a town with a population of only 50,000, and given that the average UK household is just over 2.5 people the News at 45p a time could still be getting into one in every two homes.

Okay, my maths is probably based on the wrong figures, as I’m sure a proportion of the News copies get sold to smaller settlements around Scarborough as well, but I’d wager that the title still has a penetration some cities would die for.

We all know August is the silly season, but I was impressed with the day’s splash, a Freedom of Information request revealing a £95,000 local taxpayers’ bill for the annual mass Gipsy visit for the Seamer Horse Fair.

The piece was full of interesting facts but was written straight, with none of the antagonistic language you sometimes come across towards travellers in certain local papers.

Other highlights included:

  • A well-balanced report on plans for an Islamic community centre on page three. This is another potentially controversial subject that might have been easy to whip up with traditional ‘outraged councillor’ quotes, but this was not the case in the initial, informative report.

  • A ‘Day of the Big Bang’ featurette on page nine, recalling the drama of 2009 when a 500lb Second World War bomb was detonated in nearby Ebberston. I liked this… yes, it was only a year ago, but a recent drama that would have made the splash 12 months ago is well worth a revisit.

  • Wednesday is the day for the ‘Entertainment’ section in the News, and given that it was only a 40-page paper they did well to pack in 13-pages of leisure. Three pages of theatre, three on the music scene and another two on ‘Pub Night’ reviews, previews and listings showed Scarborough to have a buzzing social scene.

    This section and the multiple columns throughout the book meant there were only ten traditional news pages, containing some 40 stories. But to be fair, the overall content in all sections was good, readable and useful stuff.

    Places like Scarborough are tight-knit and as long as the feature sections mentioned continue to carry decent local content I think they can be as good if not better than too many news pages with forced copy.

    As often is the case, the sports section was just five pages, but the Scarborough paper’s sports team put a lot of effort into multi-layered stories, with the half page angling section for example carrying a total of 12 results reports and a further 17 detailed fixtures paragraphs in four-point.

    The atmosphere must be somewhat strained in the Aberdeen Walk offices of the News, with many production staff facing relocation or redundancy following the introduction of the Atex content management system.

    But spirits are resilient enough to continue producing some cracking papers, with others I saw from August 16 and 17 also full of major local stories, diverse columns and sections.

    What will be interesting in the ABC reports a year from now is whether the recent closure of the Filey Mercury, selling some 2,000-odd copies, helps to grow sales of the News’ Saturday editions where it’s going to become a new, eight-page section.

    Sex ad rating: 9.9 out of 10. In the three papers I saw, there were no brazen ads, phrases or images. There was only a single ad under ‘Personal Services’ as follows: ‘BLUEBELLS ESCORTS 01723 369452 or visit the website www.bluebells-dating.co.uk’

    After glancing at its website, there are hints at the potential of sexual services but it appears to be operating within the law.

    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.dysonmedia@googlemail.com.

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

    Comments

    Jebu (01/09/2010 10:31:04)
    It sounds like this is a paper that from an editorial perspective is playing to the strengths of its area.
    It’s just so sad that there is that worrying behind-the-scenes worry over relocation caused by a new operating system.

    salty seadog (01/09/2010 11:08:00)
    Tremendously gushing review this Steve. Are you and Ed Asquith old pals?! Nonetheless it’s good to see the SEN praised in this way, even if the old girl looks a bit thinner than she once did. I know the (remaining) staff at the SEN are doing their best to keep the paper afloat – despite the efforts of Johnston Press to sink it. Can’t agree though about the “Night Out” feature! I mean come on!

    Jack (01/09/2010 14:12:52)
    “Glancing” at a personal services website.
    Try doing that in the office!

    woldsman (01/09/2010 14:48:24)
    The fact is the News is just a shadow of its former self. Readers do not want fancy features, they want today’s news as it happens. I remember when the News sold 20,000+ copies a night – and that was just a few years ago. Get real – the paper is in terminal decline.

    Steve Dyson (01/09/2010 17:36:10)
    Thanks for the comments. A few responses… salty seadog: I’ve met Ed a couple of times, but while I’m sure he’s a nice guy wouldn’t describe hi
    m as an ‘old pal'; in truth, I know him less than most other UK editors. I know what you mean about ‘Night Out’, but I liked it and it gave the paper a human touch in the middle of the normally empty August silly season. woldsman: I hear you, but can’t understand journalists not wanting to nurture the remains of the industry, strengthening, encouraging and criticising when necessary to make the very most of what’s there. Yes, figures are in long-term decline, but economic cycles have provided turnarounds before and could do so again. But not if we all give up!

    Concerned snapper (02/09/2010 10:43:51)
    As a photographer, I pity the poor snapper who has to go around photographing p*ssed-up people in nightclubs etc. Truly dreadful….

    Colin Peel (02/09/2010 16:20:40)
    Wot, you don’t fancy been the man about town with a camera, attending the best night spots with the nicest ladies, the man who everyones wants to take pictures of them? The drinks on the house from bar-owners wanting their venues to be noticed; the ‘one-for-the-lads’ antics once the spritzers are flowing? Isn’t this what photo-journalism has always been about (on that social, ‘oh, if you insist’ basis)?

    ForwardThinker (03/09/2010 12:16:31)
    Night Out – a godforsaken old fashioned idea that is exactly the sort of reason people aren’t interested in newspapers anymore – they’re never innovative or prepared to try something new. Tired old cliche page filling. What next? Perhaps they’ll try putting old copies of the paper in the middle instead…

    Gravy (03/09/2010 14:52:42)
    One of the advantages of sending a snapper to the night spots is that, providing he gets their names, you accumulate a picture library of the people in the town most likely to appear in court further down the line. It’s just a question of whether the snapper is prepared to put his dedication to journalism before his personal safety. And, Steve, when are you going to be ‘at large’ north of the border? I’ll even send you a few copies in the post or is that generally how things work around here?

    Steve Dyson (06/09/2010 17:41:20)
    Gravy: I agree with your view on this. Re. Scottish newspapers, please send me an email to steve.dysonmedia@gmail.com and we can discuss the way I accept submissions, postal address etc. In summary, I collect most on my travels or those of close contacts not editing the papers; but I do accept title for potential review on the basis that I ask for dates that have already been published (ie: retaining an element that no-one can know what is going to be reviewed before publication). S

    OlPeculier (13/09/2010 16:46:31)
    @concerned snapper: I know the person who does the pictures and he quite likes it. It does have it’s disdvantages, a lass I knew was in it several weeks running, and it was from the same evening! (She was annoyed people thought she was out every week wearing the same outfit!)
    But it isn’t a silly-season feature, it’s been running for many months.
    The main problem with the SEN is they vary rarely take a pop at the council, or do any real investigative journalism.
    Unfortunately, they can also be very late reporting news (today has a story that the Hull Daily Mail carried last Monday!)