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Dyson at Large: Grabbed by simple headlines

Short, active and punchy news headlines made the Ham & High stand out on the newsstand, the titles around it spoiled by too many colourful blurbs and promotions.

‘Teenage party mob clashes with police’ was the splash on Thursday 13 June, with the sub-heading: ‘Resident’s riot fears after gatecrashing youths confront officers in the street’.

This was straightforward story-telling of the kind that strikes fear into the minds of most parents with teenagers, a Hampstead house party ending with scores of ‘well-dressed’ but drunken youths trying their hardest to get arrested.

This aggression was contrasted by the smiling family picture story headlined ‘I’m so lucky to be alive, says new dad’, drawing you in to read about Jim Morris’ heart attack while picking up his newborn son and wife from a maternity unit.

He was twice resuscitated by hospital staff who’d previously treated his wife during an emergency Caesarean section and his son who’d had breathing problems for 20 minutes after his birth.

Even the boosts to inside stories were written as must-read headlines: ‘Snake in the grass is a dead python’ and ‘Witnesses arrest bag snatch man’ were both interesting enough to have led the paper on quieter weeks.

Simply-written but attractive-to-read news headlines continued throughout the Ham & High – full title The Hampstead & Highgate Express – for example:

  • ‘Blind author to climb 450ft pillar of rock for his charity’ on page three;
  • ‘Jail for pair who robbed man’s body’ on page four;
  • ‘Ballerina in bid for Tory council seat’ on page seven;
  • ‘Missing Maddie link in gadget fraud trial’ on page nine; and
  • ‘Lord is a gay marriage rebel’ on page 12.

Seasoned editor Geoff Martin evidently demands no play on words, tired jokes or stretched alliteration in headlines; instead, readers get to know exactly what they are about to read.

I particularly liked the full version of the bag snatch story on page five: ‘Would-be thief brought down’ was the headline, ‘Bag snatcher chased and caught by witnesses in High Street pursuit’ the sub-heading, and a reader’s photo of the suspect being held by four passers by.

And while the headlines were uncomplicated, the resulting stories were fulsome: the above report containing all the facts, believable descriptions of action, detailed quotes from named witnesses, an update on the elderly victim and the suspect’s later appearance at magistrates’ court.

It was perhaps this insistence on a good, full read that meant the story count was only 90 on 27 news and comment pages – but the worthwhile length of stories made the content feel like much more.

The letters and opinion spread on pages 20 and 21 displayed gravitas, readers’ views given topic titles as well as headlines, and what for these days was a substantial comment column on three local subjects written by the editor.

The black and white cartoon and the local tweets in the ‘Word on the street’ column gave this section what I thought was a perfect balance.

There were another 54 previews, reviews and lifestyle features, plus listings, in the 16-page ‘etcetera’ section, and 18 reports in five sports pages.

The Archant-owned Ham & High has an 80p cover price, but specific up-to-date sales figures are difficult to find as it’s no longer registered with ABC, although last reported sales were just over 8,000 in 2009.

Its circulation figures are now combined with the Wood & Vale – its free sister title I reviewed last August  – and this was 14,112 according to an independent audit in 2012 recorded by the Newspaper Society.

Meanwhile, the website appears to be doing well according to the ‘Newspapers’ media pack found here, which shows an ‘adult weekly reach’ of 27,253 in print more than matched by ‘average weekly unique visitors’ of 27,561.

The ‘Digital’ media pack claims this turns into weekly unique visitors of 300,000+ across all Archant’s websites in the capital, including the wider read at that combines content from all titles.

This changing balance between print and digital starts to make sense of Archant London’s decision to expand the role of digital editorial director Laura Adams to cover its newpapers as well.


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  • June 26, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Seems incredibly low penetration for such a well-known part of London. Its dry, intelligent style reminds me of one of the old regional morning dailies in their pomp. But if not enough people want to read it, it will still struggle for a future. Good luck to the staff.

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  • June 26, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Good to see traditional values being upheld – especially the avoidance of tired puns in headings. It would be interesting to know what the staffing is at the paper – and why it is not registered with the ABC.

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  • June 27, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Never seen it previously, but very crisp and clean, and lovely on the eye.
    Imagine what the Ham & High’s chief sub could do in the Black Country, with the deluge of content from the Express & Star.
    You’d either have the best-looking paper in the region – or the largest ever seen this side of Pravda’s Cold War specials.

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