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Dyson at Large: Weak headline, not enough news

A weak headline for a wipe-out splash that did not merit the space given was not a good start.

That’s what I found when I picked up the Yorkshire Evening Post on Wednesday 17 March.

Does ‘A STATELY FOOD FIGHT’ catch your eye? What does it mean? Why choose such a crusty word? Who decided to stretch that top deck? And why make it the only story on the front page?

In today’s crowded multimedia world, page ones of regional newspapers have to fight so much harder to grab the attention of passing, over-loaded readers.

For me, this headline just did not gel, failed to shout about a must-have story and therefore fell short of selling the paper.

The court case between a caterer and a home owned by the cousin of Elizabeth II was actually quite readable, although you’d have thought the words ‘Royal’ or ‘Queen’ would have added more to the headline.

And it would have felt more natural as a page five or seven, as in my opinion it wasn’t the best tale of the day on offer.

A much better potential splash had been relegated to page two, and the four words used in a page one boost to it had the makings of a much more attractive headline.

‘The knifeman next door’ was a nightmare story about a man who’d stabbed his neighbour but then returned to live in the adjacent house while waiting for the eventual court case.

Full names, details and pictures of the victims made this an article that would have been worthy of anyone’s front page.

There were several other fine stories in that day’s Evening Post, including six local women hit by NHS cervical smear blunders on page five and a gritty Chinese takeaway murder court case on page six.

I must highlight that these were fully researched and well-written reports, but another fault in that particular day’s paper was that there was nowhere near enough of them.

In fact, only 65 stories on 20 news and business pages… a little over three a page on average.

Pages six and seven both hosted 15×3 adverts, with a 20×4 on page eight, yet only three stories appeared on each of these pages.

This low count was driven by the huge size of the pictures used, some fairly mundane.

On page 16, a Good Citizen award presentation made the picture lead that filled two-thirds of the page. A worthy story, but only a down-page kicker with a drop-in, surely?

On page 19, a tale about four teenagers planning a Leeds-to-London charity cycle ride took up nearly three quarters of the space.

The four Goth-style lads grimacing around a single bike overwhelmed the page when it could easily have made room for a column of nibs, as it was not exactly an award-winning picture.

Nor was the shot on page 21 of a pensioner chatting to a nurse, illustrating a deathly health featurette, but on this occasion the photo commandeered over half a page.

They were two of ten pictures that I judged to be filling too much space.

Thank goodness for sport, which as well as eight pages in the back also saw a 12-page ‘Back of the net’ local football pull-out.

Here you could enjoy page-upon-page of detailed Sunday, Junior and Old Boys match reports, the results and tables reduced to six-point over a spread to get everything in.

Scores of local names at local events, the sort of items that kids phone Granny and Auntie Flo to make sure they get the paper.

Some of these pages also carried six action shots, proving that the Evening Post can get more than one picture on a page when it tries.

Sport aside, the busiest section in the Evening Post was the ‘Letters to the Editor’ spread on pages 10 and 11.

Here were 13 concisely-subbed letters, three pictures, three editorial leaders, a question to trigger a web-poll, an ‘On this day’ column and a detailed contacts panel.

At least 22 entry points for hungry readers, a count that editor Paul Napier needs to push into more of the news pages.

Perhaps he has on other days. I know Paul from days in the North-East when he edited the Hartlepool Mail, and I always felt he worked hard and drove high standards.

But while a single day’s review is not the fairest way of judging a newspaper, I also know that readers who spend 42p on a 56-page paper and end up disappointed might not to come back another day, so consistency is crucial.

The latest ABC figures suggest that this was perhaps just an off day. The Johnston Press-owned Yorkshire Evening Post saw sales down just 5.7% to 44,818 a day, not a dreadful performance in comparison to many others.

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

    jimbo (31/03/2010 09:39:06)
    “Scores of local names at local events, the sort of items that kids phone Granny and Auntie Flo to make sure they get the paper.”
    What a sepia-tinted view of the world you have Steve! It reminds of the Yorkshire Tea advert….’the lid didn’t match the pot, but it didn’t matter’. Anyway, back in the 21st C….

    Doomed (31/03/2010 09:57:48)
    “Not enought news” = not enough reporters! Oh, and photographers too which explains why pics have to be used big…as we don’t have any!

    Jon (31/03/2010 10:06:34)
    How can 44,818 sales be considered not bad in a city the size of Leeds?
    It’s a massive indictment of Yorkshire’s two big city evenings (the Post and the Sheffield Star)that they are comfortably outsold by the Hull Daily Mail. Both papers are lazy, unimaginative, badly designed and completely out of touch with their readers.
    I look forward to your analysis of the Star, which, the last time I bought it, boasted seven court stories on its first eight news pages.

    hilary (31/03/2010 10:13:18)
    I imagine the Evening Post staffing level has been pared to the bone and it’s as much as they can do to fill the pages. A high story count is a luxury, although it’s also a necessity to keep the readers happy. Unofrtuunately even if they’re only regurgitated off press releases or out of the What’s On listings, someone has to type them out. And half the time that someone no longer exists. Nice to know that the stories that were there were well written, though – some standards are being maintained.
    I bet that rubbish splash was there because they were on deadline and all the other, better stories had been used to fill overnight pages because there was nothing ‘worse’ to hand at the time. That smacks of very poor news editing to me.
    As to the sepia-tinted sneer – sorry, jimbo, but that is still what people want to read, despite the fact that we are in the 21st century!

    woldsman (31/03/2010 11:36:28)
    A bad front page from what is generally a news-starved product. Poor headline writing seems to be the norm here. The future looks grim should these standards remain. We are a long way from the days when YEP subs were an automatic choice for the nationals seeking imaginative staff.

    Subb Yor Own Werrk From Nw On (31/03/2010 13:27:49)
    While any newspaper that ‘dishes it out’ has to be prepared to take constructive criticism, let’s at least be aware that – as a Johnston Press title – the YEP is operating with both hands and legs strapped back by the cost-cutters.

    Bring back the subs (31/03/2010 14:04:27)
    It’s frightening! Steve’s complaining about headlines on a paper that’s still got subs. It can only get worse Steve when the YEP subs are giv
    en the chop. It’s all ready happened in other JP centres and reporters are writing 22 word long headlines that just send you to sleep. Bring back the subs!

    Steve Dyson (31/03/2010 14:13:37)
    Really interesting comments, and so thanks to all who’ve taken the time. Just one point thought… there were some excellent stories in this newspaper, and their year-on-year figures are not too bad, so someone is still doing something right. My guess is that this is dedicated editorial staff still working away loyally for a committed editor. Keep it up guys. You CAN see the quality in some of the fine stories that were in the edition I picked up. I’ll try to come back in six months and review you again.

    down the road… (31/03/2010 14:14:33)
    I have no conection with the YEP, but I bet those still clinging to employment at the once great newspaper are wondering why Steve Dyson doesn’t keep his thoughts to himself. Working in the regonal press for 20 years hardly makes him an expert – and when you look at the track record of some of the papers he edited, he’s becomes even less qualified to climb on to his ivory tower. Do us a favour Steve, b*gg*r off.

    Jimbo (31/03/2010 16:11:21)
    Hilary, sorry, but it makes me laugh when people claim to know what people want to read. Journos say exactly the same thing about the endless diet of crime and RTAs local newspapers serve up on a daily basis. And yet, those circulation figures…

    jay (31/03/2010 16:21:48)
    Not very fair, down the road. The blog is an interesting read and Steve does seem to respect the fact that we are trying to produce the best papers we can with whatever resources we’ve got left.
    And I do look at his blog each time and think “thank god it’s not my paper…”

    Paul (31/03/2010 16:46:11)
    Jon, in response to your comment regarding sales, how about the Telegraph & Argus in Bradford, another big city with paltry 33,000 sales.

    hilary (31/03/2010 17:21:03)
    Jimbo, people like a mixture. They like good crime and court; they love seeing their faces in the paper; they like somethijg they can gossip over. They also like the ‘fluffy’ stuff and the feelgood stuff, as long as it’s genuine. They like to go “awww, sweet” and they like to go “why-or-why”. Above all, they like it local and fresh. Just like food, really…

    Jess (01/04/2010 11:09:09)
    Easy to be an expert when you’re not the one making the call.