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Dyson at Large: The vanishing front page ad

Worthy of this week’s headline and intro was the innovative use of Post It-style sticky notes on the front page of The Sentinel on Wednesday 5 January.

I’d never seen this before, and had a double-take in the Stoke-on-Trent newsagent before realising this was no mistake and that these removable ads were on every cover.

I reckon this bright yellow note would have been noticed and therefore read by every purchaser of the paper, a mass reaction hopefully logged by the local NHS ‘Stop Smoking’ hotline.

The sticker was quite easily removed – another reason to look – and once gone it’s literally the front page ad that takes up no space, an ingenious revenue development that might quickly catch on.

Perhaps you’ve already had one on the front of your paper – do tell if so – but the only other example I could find in an admittedly quick internet search was via an advertising agency in Louisiana, USA.

Sticker removed, I settled down to a good half-hour read of The Sentinel, whose traditional, copy-heavy content I really enjoyed.

’25 YEARS TO WAIT FOR MY MONEY BACK’ was the splash, the consumer-related nightmare of a building extension gone wrong making me want to read the entire 18 par story on page one.

A 52-year-old householder had won a £5,500 pay-out in County Court, but the builder could only pay £1,000 up front, the rest allowed to trickle through at the rate of £15 a week for the next 25 years.

I recognised that this was what I liked and what is too-often missing in so many regional dailies these days: copy of a decent length, telling both side of a story in balanced detail.

It wasn’t just page one that did this: the page two lead was 23 pars, the page three lead 21 pars, the page seven lead 24 pars, and so on throughout.

Editor Mike Sassi obviously believes in giving each lead story the space and time to breathe, containing the fine detail that readers always want. My other favourites were:

  • ‘Manager sold £25k in stolen phones on eBay’ on page five, a total of 21 pars meaning there were full comments from the prosecutor (seven pars), defence (five) and judge (five);
  • ‘Teen jailed for live-in role at drugs factory’ on page 13, 23 pars presenting the full facts for a sorry read about a 16-year-old illegal immigrant jailed for 18 months after clear exploitation by criminals; and
  • ‘Meal price increase will affect health’ on page 17, a dull headline but very readable 22-par tale about local elderly and disabled facing a near doubling of dinner prices to £4.44 a time.

    Other stories that I initially felt were weak for page leads actually ended up far more interesting than they might have as shorts, simply because of the local quotes and detail they included.

    For example, ‘Fast-food shop plan under fire’ on page 11 could have made a dry five-par stick in many papers, but four detailed comments from neighbours plus a bit of planning history made it commendable piece of ‘local, local’ journalism.

    A tight design and regular use of ‘In brief’ columns resulted in not too low a story count in this 44-page paper, despite the length of page leads.

    There were a total of 146 reads on 21 news and features pages, plus a spread of TV listings and a puzzles page, with another 24 stories on six pages of sport, plus a page of race cards.

    Another section worth mentioning was ‘Family Announcements’, always a sure sign of a paper’s community strength: more than 110 individual messages for BMDs over two-and-a-half pages.

    According to the latest ABCs, The Sentinel, owned by Northcliffe, was -6pc down on 2009, selling 53,228 papers a day (can you imagine being the person who has to stick the Post It-style ad onto the front of each one?!)

    Festive feedback: HTFP’s comment facility was closed on some days over Christmas, so a few readers emailed me direct about Dyson at Large in this period.

    Two were Bob Bounds and Ian Carter, editor and editorial director respectively of the Kent Messenger, reviewed on 22 December.

    The blog asked whether their major coverage of a murder trial had picked up sales.

    “Sales go off a cliff during December so the verdict didn’t fall that kindly,” said Bob. “That said, the figures show we still did well, up on the year and the week.

    “On the week, the KM series was up 276 copies, not terribly significant in normal circumstances but we would expect a big drop from week 2 to week 3 of December so it’s encouraging.

    “Overall, the series went up 3.9pc on the year which is way above the trend for the second half of 2010.”

    Ian added: “The edition for Weald, which is where most of the Treeby family lived, was up 18pc on the year. The core Maidstone edition was up 1.3pc, which only equates to a couple of hundred copies but wasn’t bad given the weather.”

    Good figures, whichever way you measure them, and lovely evidence that hard news sells papers.

    Another emailer was Carl Eve, crime reporter at the Plymouth Herald, responding to the ‘Newspaper of the Year’ awards blog of 29 December.

    “Not a word about our comprehensive coverage of the Little Teds Serious Case Review, done from a local angle while the nats and the telly took the (shorter) big picture,” said Carl.

    “Are we just so far away from the rest of Britain? Should I dig out my passport to head eastwards to the land of my forefathers (Essex)?”

    No worries, Carl: Plymouth’s one of many titles my 2011 target list!

    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] or visit

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


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    • January 12, 2011 at 12:55 pm

      The ‘Staffordshire’ Sentinel has become very Stoke-centric since shedding its branch offices and it has definitely lost a lot of ‘newsiness’ in going overnight – more so than most. But it uses photographs brilliantly, does page leads justice and gets reporters out on daily door-knocking missions to turn news fillers into news features. It’s a proper people’s paper and I always pick it up when I’m in the area.

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    • January 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm

      Post-it notes contraptions have been available to stick at the end of a press line for at least 10 years – the reason that you do no see it that often is the ROI is dreadful.Another great idea that doesn’t make any money….

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    • January 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm

      Hello Steve. We have never met, but I knew you from your time in Middlesbrough. I was assistant editor at The Northern Echo at the same time. I’ve been editor in chief of the Metro papers in the United States for three years now and we’ve done this kind of stick-on ads thing a lot in that time. They are highly sought after and very lucrative – we can charge a premium of about 50 per cent above any other cover ad slot. They’re really effective for short-term, response campaigns and some of the bigger national brands use them, as well as, especially, New York’s public authorities – city hall, the department of health etc. In production terms they’re a bit of a swine, though. We have to saw 30 minutes off deadline to allow the printers to physically add them to the papers. We publish more than 600,000 a day in new York, Boston, Philadelphia and Long Island, so it’s a bit of a job. Some of my staff hate them: they cover editorial space until they are removed, but I don’t think they do any real harm and I’m a fan of anything innovative and eye-catching. I enjoy reading your blog. For someone who trained and grew up in the regional press, it’s always nice to see someone cast an expert eye over what is happening at home. The print market here is interesting to say the least: a dozen or so daily papers in NYC alone, plus 300 more weeklies in just about every language you can think of. Regards. Tony

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    • January 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm

      I still pick up my local edition of the Sentinel from time to time and agree it can produce a good read. But it does suffer from “spot” news items of the day. I guess these are now found on its website. More years than I care to remember I worked for the paper. It was a very happy office despite the enormous amount of copy you had to produce – day and night ! Every town that makes up the Potteries had its own organisation from the Chamber of Commerce to the chicken breeders society. And news editor Norman Becket ensured that all their events were covered. In consequence most nights into the early hours were like daytime as we reporters hacked out copy for the early subs. Norman was a legend in his own lunctime. No he didn’t drink (I think) but took himself home for a pee, so it was said. In those days the Sentinel was also, as a daily, famous for its funeral coverage. Reporters spent hours taking down names outside blustery churchyards and Carmountside crem. On one occasion I was just about to write the splash for the first edition about a local family being wiped out in a holiday smash in Cornwall. To his horror Norman spotted he had forgotten to send to a Masonic funeral. Yes, you are right, I was hurridly sent to cover the funeral and then write the splash ! In big funerals we often ended perhaps two columns of names with A.N Other out of boredom.One day it made its own news, the chain smoking editor threw a match behind him as he dashed from his office with a wad of proofs in his hand and almost destroyed most of the contents. Could go on forever about days on the Sentinel but don’t want to send eveyone to sleep !

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    • January 13, 2011 at 9:13 am

      It may already be on your list, but the Shropshire Star is worth a look. Multi-edition evening (not overnight!) regional paper that always has a high story count.

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    • January 13, 2011 at 11:49 am

      Many thanks for the interaction. Interesting different experiences of Stick Its from ‘Bean Counter’ and Tony Metcalf. Methinks I’d take a look at US examples if I was UK ad director. Great memories of Sentinel working, ‘Old Hack’, not sending me to sleep at all. Could read those all day…! And no worries, ‘Retired Sub’, I pledge to do the Shropshire Star too in 2011. May take a little time, as I need to take care not to be too Midlands-centric in my reviews. Hence the next one was from bloomin’ miles away!!

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