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Dyson at Large: Newspaper offices and brand values

I couldn’t resist using this wonderful frontage, snapped when picking up the Weston, Worle & Somerset Mercury a couple of weeks ago.

Just look at the proud history, tradition and splendour, with what looks like fairly new signage telling locals that this is ‘YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER’, and reminding them that it’s been so since 1843.

And have you spotted the letterbox in the centre window, which I’ve helpfully enlarged for you here.

A smart ‘Editor’s Box’, giving readers direct, physical access to the very person who can air their grievances, solve their issues or expose organisations that might be exploiting them.

We all know that such premises are increasingly deemed an unnecessary expense, with recent closures including offices in Devizes, Chippenham, Matlock, Ripley, Mexborough, Mansfield, Sutton-in-Ashfield, and Whitby.

And only yesterday, there was a report of more possible office closures at Sleaford in Lincolnshire, and Linlithgow, Milngavie, Inverurie and Glenrothes in Scotland.

But I would argue that at a time when newspaper groups can ill-afford TV and billboard advertisements and other expensive marketing, they should remember the value of strongly-branded premises located in the heart of communities they serve.

By the way, none of the above-mentioned closures include offices owned by Archant, the publishers of the Weston Mercury, and who’s to say that this isn’t one of the reasons why the paper’s sales in recent years have been so steady.

The latest ABCs revealed the weekly sold 15,393 in the last six months of 2012  – a figure that has barely moved in the last six audit periods.

(Yes, I know there will be many other reasons for this stability, but come on, let’s tease a debate over the importance of high street newspaper offices!)

Turning to the paper itself, the Mercury’s splash headline on 14 March was perhaps a little too wordy – but it contained words that would have first grabbed the attention of passers-by, and then enticed their purchases.

The words ‘teach’, ‘head’, ‘classroom’ and ‘paedophile’ stand out to scanning readers, and in a close-knit area like Weston-super-Mare this issue would soon have been one of the talks of the town.

A selection of other good, hard news stories that caught my eye included:

  • ‘Cannabis dealer ordered to repay £114,000 after mortgage fraud’, leading page five;
  • ‘Baby’s death was down to natural causes – coroner’, leading page seven;
  • ‘Horsebox woman ordered to move on’, leading page nine (I know, fascinating – a 51-year-old had actually been living in a horsebox in a local lay-by for five years!); and
  •  ‘Landlord says squalor is down to tenants’, leading page 13.

Another piece of quality journalism was the centre page spread in the main section, on pages 36 and 37, celebrating World Book Day.

‘So what?’, I hear you say; but these painstaking photographic and lay-out efforts would have taken some organisation, resulting in 13 quality pictures displaying the faces of 100-plus recognisable local children.

As the late chief sub Tony Dumphy used to remind me at the Evening Gazette, Teesside: ‘It’s simple – pictures of people sell papers.”

In total, the Mercury carried 210-plus stories on 39 news and features pages, with another 50-odd reports on seven sports pages.

I also counted a very healthy 103 notices of births, marriages and deaths on a double-page spread of ‘Family Announcements’ on pages 32 and 33, spilling over onto page 34 – always a sign of a strong readership.

From front to back, the Weston, Worle & Somerset Mercury felt like good value, with its 72-page main section and 48-page homes pull-out creating a thick package on sale for 70p a time.

Well done to seasoned editor Judi Kisiel and team, (I’m sure the local newspaper editor on ITV drama Broadchurch is based on Judi).

And please, Archant, continue to remember the brand value of your Waterloo Street office.