Take a look at this splash from the Haverhill Echo on Thursday 12 July 2012 and tell me what you think.
I’ve always been against centralised headlines and, as an editor, insisted they were set ragged-right, preferring each deck to be within an em of flush.
Even with papers whose house style insists on centralised heads, I’ve generally baulked at those that end up looking like hour glasses when subs lump for the first phrase that fits the story without bothering to fill out the lines.
Despite this, on a table full of local and regional papers that I came across a fortnight ago, it was the Haverhill Echo that slapped me in the face and made me pick it up to read.
The headline ‘KILLER HEARD VOICES’ with almost a column of white space on either side brought a front page focus I rarely experience – the equivalent of a sudden cold draught in a dark cellar.
Mad, brutal facts were then made realistic in the way that only comes with well-penned court stories, the chilling intro demanding the whole story be read: ‘A Haverhill carer accused of bludgeoning her 77-year-old lover to death with a claw hammer has said she heard voices saying ‘dead, dead, dead’ before the attack, a court heard.’
At the end of a gripping 18 pars, all on page one, there was a perfect link to the paper’s website: ‘The judge Mr Justice Saunders was directing the jury before they retired to consider their verdict, as the Echo went to press. See our website www.haverhillecho.co.uk for verdict.’
Along with what I suspect was the majority of Echo readers, this immediately prompted me to do just that, and the updated online story told me the accused had been convicted of murder and jailed for life.
It was an impressive start for a paper that sometimes grappled awkwardly with design but often hit the spot with all important content. Production flaws included:
- A messy boost above the splash, with Spiderman seemingly getting his bum scorched by the Olympic flame in the right-hand picture.
- The centralised headlines that strangely worked for me on page one then grated on various inside pages – ‘Thefts from vans and cars reported in town’ on five decks across a column on page four an example of how to induce sea-sickness in readers.
- The odd use of bright yellow on headlines placed on top of pictures for Olympic torch spreads on pages seven and nine.
- A stray boost on page 22 urging readers to follow Bury Free Press editor Barry Peters on Twitter – which would mean little to Haverhill Echo readers, (even when Echo staff move 18 miles to the Bury St Edmunds office next month).
The Echo is owned by Johnston Press which, like so many mass owners, has centralised production lines churning out pages for dozens of different papers at the same time, so perhaps these glitches were due to that.
More encouraging for a paper that only sells 3,778 copies a week was the story quality from what appeared to be a three-person content team, which on top of the murder splash included:
- ‘£300k extra to destroy school’ leading page three, revealing the extra cost of a planned demolition after an arson attack.
- ‘Tributes paid after fatal road crash’ leading page four, with detailed quotes and details from the mourning family.
- ‘Windfarm opponents celebrate their victory as BT drops plans’ leading page five.
There was a total of around 160 stories on 34 sometimes very tight news, features and sports pages – not too low a count in a 48-page book with a cover price of 50p.