But what on earth is going on down-table at the group’s Hastings & St. Leonards Observer?
This paid-for weekly has good enough news content, a healthy editorial ratio and a nice, thick, 84-page main book and 36-page property pull-out.
But the design, subbing and obvious lack of proof-reading in the Friday 18 May edition were atrocious, resulting in nonsensical lay-outs, missing crucial detail and undesked intros.
Let me show you what I mean with the murder conviction of self-appointed anti-paedophile vigilante Christopher Hunnisett, reported on page two:
Does it look like a package to you? Well, it’s supposed to be, only whoever was subbing and proof-reading failed to tie the reports together.
It wasn’t as if this was a last-minute dash of a story – the conviction actually happened on the previous Friday 11 May.
With a week to play with, there was plenty of opportunity to come up with a standard design that could easily have included a standfirst, a clearly structured lead and backgrounder, tied together with decently sized pictures of victim and murderer.
As it was, I had to read both reports before I knew where I was, and even then there were too many missing details: no first name, picture, age or address for the victim, no date or address of the crime, and so on.
Elsewhere in the paper, there were several occasions where stories suddenly stopped in mid-sentence, only to be continued in a separate text box elsewhere on the same page, like this on page 14:
Just in case you can’t read the text on this image, the awkward, unsignposted split results in the second text box starting with this: ‘Wayne Drew. He said: “Ingrid…’
This jolting ‘style’ happened again on page 20, the second text box this time starting mid-word with this: ‘sociation and is registered with the General Osteopathic Council.’
An obvious lack of desking also led to some tortuous intros, like this for the page 12 lead: “There was no shortage of inspiration in Stade Hall as dozens of messages of protest and friendship adorned cakes at the Stade Saturdays event, in which more than 500 people were involved.”
The above examples were typical of what felt like a lack of care in presentation and detail throughout much of the paper, made worse by several undeclared advertising features that threatened to devalue editorial.
I am sure that the journalists working for the Observer aren’t happy with this, but what looked to me like an unfortunate clash of remote subbing, inflexible templates and scarce resource for proper proof-reading badly let them down.
To be fair, the Observer had a good enough story for its splash, the death of a local speedway star, although I did wonder whether anyone bothered to check the clashing front and back page headlines.
There was a respectful count of 190+ stories on 49 news, features and sports pages, and their news value was pretty encouraging. It’s just that someone needs to keep a better eye on how they look…
The Johnston Press-owned title, which has a cover price of 55p, appeared to sell an average of 32,853 a week in the last available circulation figures from July to December 2010.
I say ‘appeared’ because these sales were a 71% increase from a previous figure of 17,918, a meteoric rise that was actually due to it incorporating the figures of the Bexhill Observer, Rye Observer and Battle Observer which were previously audited separately.
Since then, the Observer is one of a number of Johnston Press papers in Sussex that have been withdrawn from ABC audits after a disagreement over audit periods.
I’m sure the above editorial and circulation hitches are all things that Mr Highfield will want to quickly sort out.