It was huge breaking news, but the Pontefract & Castleford Express struggled to sell the story on its front page on Thursday 29 September.
There had been a roof collapse at the nearby Kellingley Colliery on the Tuesday afternoon, trapping two miners, and it was soon announced that one had been killed.
More than 800 local people work at the mine and crowds of anxious relatives gathered to find out who had been lost or injured, with the victim’s name released just before the Express went to press on the Wednesday.
But instead of focussing on pictures of people – there were plenty and they were used well on pages two and three – the Express offered a dull ambulance snap for page one, beneath a generic question headline.
I think I can see that the Express might have been trying to move the story on, and that with national and regional dailies reporting the actual incident it, as a weekly, had to keep the story ‘new’ on the shelves for several days.
However, I’m afraid that the ‘Death trap?’ headline and a not very gripping picture almost switched me off rather than on to the story – at one stage making me think that the ambulance itself was the safety issue.
The victim wasn’t even named in the page one copy, instead introduced in the sixth par of the page three lead. And yes, before you ask, he was local enough, from Sherburn-in-Elmet, just nine miles away from Castleford.
Using only the picture choice I could see inside, I’d have gone for this as a better page one image, at least capturing the breaking nature of the tragedy, with a good portion of night sky for a ‘Miner killed’ or ‘Dead miner named’ wob headline.
Was it too close to deadline to change the front page? Maybe, but rules can be bent and print managers annoyed for an extra 20 minutes – and I’m sure the local Johnston Press MD would have backed editorial on a story this size.
That said, let’s not get too hung up on one week’s front page call. We all know it’s easy to judge from afar without the fine detail of the exact situation in the newsroom.
Instead, I’d like to give deserved applause to other elements that for me stood out in that week’s Express.
One was the high quality of photography used on inside pages. Just look at this perfect example of ‘pictures of people sell papers’ from page 17, with 60+ recognisable faces.
And I was impressed with the free, 32-page Yorkshire People ‘who’s who’ pull-out, which contained 225 detailed entries of local movers, all with headshots.
Three columns on page 24 were devoted to a subject I love to see covered in depth – the ‘Court report’ section containing 36 individual cases, with exact names, ages, addresses, convictions and punishments creating a fantastic local read.
I was similarly drawn to the ‘Community News’ spread on pages 36 and 37, with 45 nibs from seven community correspondents proving that no other media reports grassroots events as well as local weekly newspapers.
The Express had a total of 170+ stories on 38 ad-crammed news and features pages, and another 115+ reports on 11 sports pages, with comprehensive coverage of rugby league and union all the way down to the Under 10s.
There was a second, 16-page property pull-out which, together with the 72-page main book, made a total of 120-pages for a cover price of 63p.
Whatever my opinion on its reaction to that week’s big story, the Express does a sterling job of serving readers detailed local coverage, which helps it sell 19,425 copies a week according to the latest ABCs.