There were a total of 1,597 words of copy on the front of the Shropshire Star
’s first edition on Friday July 15.
Believe me – I counted them. And that was not including the headlines, which themselves totalled another 66 words.
As you can see here, these words were contained within a total of NINE stories packed onto page one.
I’d defy anyone to find another newspaper in Britain with as much content on the front, (except its own sister paper, the Wolverhampton Express and Star).
And for the record, in the 64-page Shropshire Star there were a total of 280+ stories and three pages of TV and leisure listings on 39 news and features pages, and 67 reports and a spread of race cards on seven sports pages.
Do you like the look of it? Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan, and over the years I’ve spoken to many experienced editors who’ve almost groaned at the visual impact.
But do you know what? It provides a mass of content and value for money that works for 58,121 locals in and around Shropshire who buy it
at 42p a copy, six days a week.
And while sales have declined in recent years, they have done so at a much lesser rate than most regional dailies, slowly but steadily elevating the Shropshire Star to become the THIRD highest-selling in England.
Yes, that’s right, this evening newspaper based in Telford (population c. 170,000) now sells more than regional papers based in Birmingham (population c. 1,000,000), Leeds (c. 720,000), Sheffield (c. 520,000), Bradford (c. 467,000), Coventry (c. 305,000), Newcastle (c.259,000) and Stoke (c. 239,000), and many other large cities
The reasons are manifold, of course: Telford’s a growing new town; many large cities have first and second generation citizens not used to buying local newspapers; Shropshire’s a big county with sizeable towns like Shrewsbury, (although here I’d contend that all cities have several nearby towns once served by their newspapers).
Whatever the arguments, the truth is that the Shropshire Star has made few changes to its printed product since its launch in 1964, (just like its sister the Express and Star which sells 116,992 daily – England’s largest sale from a newspaper based in Wolverhampton, population c. 239,000.)
Not only few changes in design, but also few changes in editions – the Shropshire Star still has seven, based on a geographical and timed structure. And virtually no changes to its belief in live newspapers – none of its editions go to press before 9am and the latest deadline is mid-afternoon.
Long-standing editor Sarah-Jane Smith and her team provide readers with a hell of a lot of copy – most of it local; and a good chunk of this is live, on-day copy, as can be seen here in the ‘Last’ edition from July 15.
The splash changed up for a more detailed report on Rebekah Brooks’ dramatic July 15 resignation (though even the first edition managed nine pars), the major Ligus court case was updated with live copy, and there were a further four new on-day reports.
I don’t want to get too engrossed in the dying debate of live newspapers. But I do want to challenge the industry with facts: this on-day schedule and these multiple editions, together with front pages brimming with copy, an average of 16 stories per inside page and a design than uses colour sparingly, has resulted in an evening newspaper that is doing better than most.
And it’s a recipe that seems to have worked twice as well at its larger sister title.
The operation is not without its problems: there have been job losses
to cope with revenue downturns, union opposition and potential strike action.
But long live the Graham family– the owners of Midland News Association, the paper’s publishers – who believe such consistency and tradition will mean their stable titles outlast the majority of others.
Maybe, just maybe, there are one or two old tricks to be learned here.