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Dyson at Large: Mad bull killing and worn-out cows

They tell it brutally like it is in the Western People, the Ballina-based weekly serving County Mayo in the Republic of Ireland.

‘Massive injuries in fatal bull attack shock doctor’ was the headline that caught my eye on page two, reporting how a young farmer was “gored to death”.

“My legs and my hands are fine, but I feel sore in my ribs,” were the last words uttered by the poor lad to his mother before he was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A witness told the inquest how he watched the victim “being thrown in the air, the bull then standing over him”.

The official cause of death was “haemorrhage due to multiple rib fractures”, a doctor explaining that “his right lung and right kidney were lacerated” by the three-year-old Friesian bull, which was later put down.

This tough, agrarian flavour continued right through the 21 December edition of this broadsheet newspaper, where even the classifieds proudly advertised their honest services on page nine of the second section, including:

  • ‘Wanted: all types of cull cows, also aged bulls for slaughter in Mayo. Payment on day of slaughter';

  • ‘Moran’s dead and worn-out animal collection. Same day guaranteed'; and

  • ‘Xmas is coming and the GEESE are getting fat! Farm to fork, oven ready, 70 Euro’.

    I liked how editor James Laffey and his team freely placed grim tidings next to the lighter and brighter sides of life, a nonchalant mix that gave the People a feel of reality. Page one, for example, splashed on ‘Net closing in on suspect in missing woman case’, new appeals going out to mark the 10th anniversary of Sandra Collins’ disappearance.

    Next to it was a colourful banner ‘Happy Christmas: no time like snow time!’, cheery kids waving despite icy temperatures next to giant Santa and Snowman blow-ups and a weather report beneath.

    Running across the entire six columns above both stories was ‘Balla killer must wait until January for sentence’, readers calmed down again with the right-hand column shorts ‘Ballina choir to feature in special TV service’ and ‘Western Christmas arrangements’.

    The writing was attractive too, with the kind of ‘how you’d tell it in the pub’ style we often yearn for from emerging students but too rarely find in regional professionals.

    ‘Ryan and Gallagher to step in for Bev?’ was the down-page kicker on page one, predicting likely candidates to replace a retiring politician, an enjoyable read despite a literal.

    “Christmas dinner conversations in many Fianna Fáil households will centre on whose [sic] going to fill the gaping hole left by the departure of Beverley Flynn,” read the intro.

    As well as the six above-mentioned front page stories there were three picture boosts – all to soft news features inside – plus a strap boost above the masthead to the jobs page.

    An aspect noted for those of you who remember the ability of broadsheets to contain so much was the number of individual adverts… 12 in the bottom third of page one.

    There were 22 broadsheet pages in the front news section, around 10 of them taken up with display advertising. The remaining space contained 92 reports and 64 pictures, many of these community group shots with numerous recognisable faces.

    Other hard news stories that stood out included:

  • ‘Baby’s body hidden in hot-press’ leading page nine, a harrowing story of a secret pregnancy gone wrong;

  • ‘Man in wheelchair burned to death’ leading page 12, a 79-year-old fatally sitting too close to his electric fire; and

  • ‘Man of mystery had 18,600 cigs for wedding’ leading page 18, the Oriental suspect telling a court the suitcase of fags was intended as gifts at his reception, claiming “a Chinese custom”… he was jailed for three months.

    The second section was made up of another 14 broadsheet pages, containing features, sport and classified adverts.

    The sheer number of local people pictured on these pages was extraordinary – more than 400 smiling faces in group shots celebrating sport, education and local entertainment.

    Added to this were another 91 faces in black and white on four pages of ‘Family notices’, pointing to how popular this paper is for local families.

    But it was the third ‘Community Life’ section that really took my breath away: 48 tabloid pages dedicated to surrounding towns and villages like Crossmolina, Knockmore, Enniscrone, Ballaghaderreen, Claremorris and a dozen more.

    This section was 90%+ per cent editorial and there were – wait for it – 800+ individual community reports and 160+ pictures, many again containing a dozen or more faces, (note no exact figures here… I gave up counting!)

    Talk about the importance of local, local, local – this County Mayo version of The Sunday Times is an incredibly in-depth community newspaper, and one with the farthest geographical reach and the most voluminous content I have had the pleasure of reviewing to date.

    The Western People, first published in 1883, is owned by Cork-based Thomas Crosbie Holdings, which also has the national Irish Examiner, the Sunday Business Post and more than a dozen other Irish regionals in its portfolio.

    Published on Tuesdays, the People costs €2.10 (£1.50) and sold 16,271 copies a week in 2009, including 726 in Britain and as far away as New York, USA.

    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 [email protected].

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


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    • January 26, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Fascinating review. I hope media courses in the UK include reviews of paperlike this. Mike Morrissey, Middlesbrough.

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    • January 26, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      It’s very windy in Ballina! They love their photos from the local community events, try the Roscommon Herald sometime.

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    • January 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm

      We absolutely love the People, but it fills up the recycling box very quickly (it’s size)! Apart from the Stratford Herald there seem to be very few papers like this left any more, and I wonder whether a return to heavy duty community coverage could work again one day – we can but hope

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    • January 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      Always amazes me how good so many local papers in Ireland – and Scotland for that matter – remain. True, there are still cracking local reads in England and Wales, too, but they often seem to be more uniform and commercialised than their Irish and Scots cousins.

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