It’s not often that a non-journalist reader tries to grab my attention with positive news about their local newspaper.
And so I want to share the following email I received from Katie, in her late 20s from Essex, who works as a junior executive at a major construction firm.
“Local papers have a reputation for being stuffed with advertising and trivial news stories,” Katie told me after stumbling across Dyson at Large, “but the Brentwood Gazette is anything but!
“The paper always has relevant, engaging stories for the community – from local councillor gaffes, to whether the town will get its own Waitrose.
“I moved to the area around 12 months ago and it’s helped me to get to know my new home.
“And, most importantly to me, the Gazette is embracing the digital age with an active, up-to-the-moment Twitter account and a mobile-optimised website, meaning I can read local news on the go just like I do with the nationals.”
Katie’s praise prompted me to get hold of a Brentwood Gazette dated Wednesday 2 October, which by chance splashed on the latest stage of the supermarket story she’d mentioned: ‘Decision time: 127 flats or new Waitrose store?’
For once, I liked the used of red for ‘Decision time’, and I’ve always been a fan of using company brands and colours when relevant in headlines – the ‘Waitrose’ green in upper and lower case instantly telling readers who the story involved.
Taking care over headlines seems to be a must for Gazette subs, as plenty of them pulled me into readable stories with precise or intriguing information, such as:
- ‘Bless this horse! Prayers said at four-legged service’, leading page three;
- ‘Pickles tells abuse victim to ‘adjust your medication’’, leading page five;
- ‘Saucy fiction’s no great thrill for blind readers’, leading page eight;
- ‘Terrified horse with rider bolts park dog attack’, leading page nine; and
- ‘Police boss to spend £230k on 5 new staff in his office’, leading page 11.
There was in-depth coverage of planning, politics, charity, local celebrity and community issues and events, although I felt a little uncomfortable at an absence of traditional ‘hard’ news.
I carefully read through the Gazette several times and could not find one court appearance or crime report, and was left wondering if this was an editorial decision or just the quirk of a quiet calls week.
This led me to follow reader Katie’s enthusiasm and visit the paper’s website, and on 10 October there were two ‘live’ crime stories on the opening page – ‘Two men arrested after theft of Porsche’ and ‘Man charged over train assault on grandfather’.
My blog is only a snapshot of the paper and website, of course, and so I’d be interested to have comments from Gazette editor Neville Wilson or his team on whether they are developing a ‘live’ approach for online and leaning towards analysis and timeless stories for print.
The Gazette is a former Northcliffe paper, and so if this is evidence of a wider Local World editorial policy then I’d also welcome enlightening comments and any web statistics from David Montgomery, only last week announced as taking more of a hands-on control as chief executive, following Steve Auckland’s departure.
Whatever the strategy, at first glance it doesn’t seem to have done the title’s print circulation any harm: it was recorded at 14,864 a week in the last six months of 2012, a best-performing increase of +29.5pc.
However, it should be noted that only 66pc of this total were sold at 75p a time (it’s now 90p), the rest being free pick-ups, and so perhaps someone else can tell us which way the paid-for and free trends are heading.
Gazette reader Katie also applauded the title’s Twitter activity, and I noted that @Gazetteseries tweeted 25 times on 10 October, had total tweets of 3,049 and 3,505 followers; any thoughts on these efforts?
More statistics: in a 60-page main paper, there were 140-plus tales on 35 news and letters pages, 21 reports on four sports pages, and around 50 stories in a 24-page ‘go!’ lifestyle pull-out, plus a 28-page Homes pull-out.
But the last word should go to Katie, whose postscript to her email highlighted the quality of a recent Gazette story: “This local councillor gaffe story went national.”
A great story – and without our local papers, where would it have come from?