Reacting to blunders that might have damaged his newspaper, Ian Dowell used to bark in his inimitable Devonian accent: “Someone needs their arse kicking!”
My favourite old editor’s idiom came to mind when looking for the Andover Advertiser at a local supermarket as I passed through the Hampshire town last week.
The 75p paper was hard to find because the entire pile of 50 or so copies sported nasty triple folds that bound their first and last six pages tightly together.
Worse still, the deep creases hid two-thirds of the masthead, potentially preventing sales to people who couldn’t clearly see what they were looking for.
How many printers, van loaders and shopkeepers had failed to intervene to prevent this masthead-less batch – and goodness know how many more bundles – from hitting the streets?
Having bought a copy, and then carefully untangling and flattening out its pleats, the Advertiser on Friday 18 October eventually looked clean enough.
The title was crisp in navy blue on white, the dateline uncluttered, the boosts straightforward and the lead, ‘FOODBANK CRISIS’, quickly told the story about a desperate warehouse search for a local service.
If anything, a second main report might have improved page one, and good inside stories that might have done this included:
- ‘Former mill manager was unfairly dismissed’, a detailed employment tribunal report, leading page two;
- ‘Bribery inquiry dropped by police’, a strange political row, leading page five – more on this later; and
- ‘Closing care homes may prove fatal’, leading page 15.
Much of the rest of the content was decent community stuff, ranging from a ‘Welcome home to our soldiers’ spread on pages six and seven, to reports from Andover’s Flower Club, Wine Circle and other local groups on page 19.
I also liked the newsy letters spread on pages 16 and 17, which included local views on the aforementioned political row – ‘Appalled [that] good deed prompted bribery claim’ and ‘Councillor has served our town well’.
This hullaballoo all came down to Councillor Tony Hooke promising to donate his £12,000 allowance to a local charity, which a twisted complainant had misreported to police on the grounds that it somehow breached The Representation of the People Act.
But my favourite section was the half-page ‘Back Through The Pages’ archive on page 36, compiled by Derek Kane, who obviously has a great eye for spotting unusual Advertiser news from yesteryear.
One was a court story from 1913 which might today have made a congratulatory splash in the Daily Mail: a man guilty of “begging for bread and cheese” committed to “14 days hard labour”.
Another was a fascinating report about the town’s pleasure fair in 1888 when a man passing the “saloon rifle stall” was accidentally shot in the head: “Fat women and black pugilists helped the music greatly, as also did the frequent crack of the saloon rifle, one of which bye-the-bye caused an accident that might have terminated fatally.
“The bullet from one of the rifles penetrated the side of the gallery striking a man on the head. The blood from the wound this caused flowed so freely that it was feared he would bleed to death […] but fortunately Dr Helsdon was found and attended to the man.”
We should see more of these wonderful glimpses of old-fashioned reportage in today’s newspapers, as some of them are just as, or even more, intriguing than up-to-date stories.
The Andover Advertiser, published by Newsquest, sold 10,999 a week at full price in 2012, with another 15,557 copies of the Andover Advertiser Midweek delivered free – an eye-opening combination of free and paid-for.
So loads of positives, but let’s just hope someone keeps an eye on the Advertiser’s paper bundles as they come off the presses in future, or they might need a book down the back of their trousers…