Perhaps you’ll think I’m mad, but my mouth salivated as I began to manhandle, read and digest the enormous Lymington Times.
‘HAMMER ATTACK REVENGE TERROR’ was the splash on 24 December, describing a beating that resulted in a three-year jail term for a local decorator angry at unpaid bills.
When I say ‘splash’, I think I should point out that this story took up less than one-sixth of the page one space in this broadsheet weekly.
It used just three of the eight columns available, only one extending beneath the fold; another six stories, a column of four district nibs, five adverts, a content panel and a detailed masthead filled the rest of the front page.
While the design and lay-out looks like something from the 1960s – note there is no colour – the content is good enough to grace any local newspaper.
The lead intro was tight, 29 words flowing so well no comma was needed, the kind some older HoldtheFrontPage readers will remember having drummed into them by their first news editors:
“An attacker who repeatedly beat a New Milton man over the head with a claw hammer in a revenge attack over money was jailed for more than three years.”
‘Policeman loses cover-up appeal’ was a fascinating tale of a police sergeant trying to hide the fact that a colleague who died in a road smash had been having an affair at the time. He lost his job for his misplaced loyalty.
Other page one stories brought light and shade, including a prelim for a Boxing Day race, the result of a planning row, council cuts, the latest on a teenager hit by a motorbike, an elaborate Christmas message, more planning rows and a suicide. Measuring 63 by 45cms, each giant page was filled to the brim with stories and adverts, for example:
- page two contained 11 hard news stories – all courts and council, no pictures – laid out centrally in a well of 24 adverts;
- the same design on page three, this time just five stories and one picture, with 12 larger adverts;
- page four had five stories, one picture and 18 adverts; and
- some pages went crazy, like page eight with 26 reports and five small ads.
In this way, there were a total of 169 stories in the front section of 14 broadsheet pages (12 news, two sport), each collection of carefully crafted copy nestling within a total of 119 display ads.
And from the look of the advertisers, it seemed that every business in this Lymington and New Milton area of the New Forest wanted to display their wares.
This rich display advertising continued for the first three pages of the second section, with the final 11 pages (all broadsheet, remember) then crammed with the healthiest classifieds section I’ve seen in years.
The positioning was clever too, for example the page 16 section of planning applications and decisions surrounded by adverts for landscaping, plant hire, carpentry and building firms. Not a bad tip for other regionals.
And just to underline the quality of editorial content, let me list a few leading inside headlines:
- page 2 – ‘Calmore man attacked by Pompey skipper’;
- page 3 – ‘Refusal of supermarket upheld to shield traders’;
- page 4 – ‘Attack trial stopped by lawyer’s sudden illness’;
- page 12 – ‘Claw hammer PO raider jailed for three years’; and
- page 15 – ‘No jail for paedophile caught with child porn on his phone’.
So who’s behind this back-to-the-future style of traditional journalism – steeped in history, smelling of ink and still knee-deep in copy and adverts? Step forward owner-editor Charles S. Curry, now in his 92nd year, nearly 76 of them working for the New Milton Advertiser & Lymington Times.
But here’s a summary: first launched in 1928, Charles Curry senior became a partner of this newspaper business in 1932; his son Charles Curry junior started as a 16-year-old apprentice and then took over as editor in 1966; he was awarded the MBE for services to journalism in 1997; and he’s still in the chair today.
The New Milton Advertiser & Lymington Times are effectively two masthead editions of the same base paper, with district lead changes when necessary. The two newspapers sell 20,074 copies a week between them at 35p a time, a sales figure that has hardly changed in recent years.
There’s a website displaying each week’s front page, but this simply acts as a pull to those who might want to buy the hard copy for more – no other stories are posted. And before critics decry it for not exploiting the internet, note that @Lymingtontimes tweets a string of current edition headlines on Twitter every week.
The latest for the 14 January edition reads: “This week: Families flee as man ‘sets himself alight’, Legal threat over coma treatment, Snake thrust at firefighter, Go-ahead for Webb’s homes”. Again, not a bad tip for watching regionals wondering how to promote themselves via social networks.
Let’s hope that Mr Curry has a succession plan up his sleeve for when he finally decides to retire. Meanwhile, his papers’ insistence on every cough and spit of crime, courts and council embedded in traditional ‘sign them all up’ advertising is a living template for other hyperlocal print ventures.