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Dyson at Large: Decent news, but painful serif headlines

Why on earth has Trinity Mirror started using such an ugly headline typeface on its weekly newspapers in Lancashire?

It’s not often that I carp on about such things, but I physically cringed at the three decks of serif-gone-mad that I found adorning the front of the Accrington Observer.

I’m no font expert, but what seemed to me like a Rockwell-related typeface with extra serifs strained my eyes, especially as the words were all in capitals and with negligible leading.

It looked even worse in four decks of white-on-black in the Rossendale Free Press, a sister paper of the Observer, completely dominating the tiny thumbnail picture of the deceased soldier.

This strange font – which reminded me of those old plastic stencils we used at primary school – was nowhere to be seen when I reviewed the Free Press for this site back in the spring of 2011, so goodness knows why it has been introduced.

It was not much easier on the eye when the typeface dropped to upper and lower on both papers’ inside pages, the serifs bleeding into each other far too frequently.

But enough about the font: assuming readers manage to battle through that distraction, let’s concentrate on what the Observer offers in terms of content.

The weekly’s splash headline was a little clumsy: surely ‘JOBS BOOST’ on the top deck would have read better than ‘REPRIEVE’, and wouldn’t have fell so shy.

That aside, the story about the reopening of the brick factory that supplied the foundations for the Empire State Building was strong enough, even if it felt strange to use a drop-in of two bricks.

The rest of the front page lacked finesse: the masthead looked a little weak, again probably suffering from the bold headline font; the main A-level picture was a little predictable; and the stolen boots drop-in picture was poor.

Regardless of the design, most teaser headlines were strong, including: ‘Thieves swipe football boots at Stanley’; ‘Mum’s moving tribute to her ‘gentle’ son’; ‘Woman pinned against wall in attack’; and ‘Family ‘so proud’ of tragic teen’.

Most of these stories then led right-hand pages inside: the stolen boots on page three; a more detailed report on the reprieved brickworks on page five; the attack on the woman on page seven; and the mum’s tribute on page 13.

While I baulked at the page one A-level picture, there was good, thorough exams coverage and better pictures of celebrating teenagers on pages eight, nine and 10.

And there were several more dramatic news leads on other pages, including: ‘Punter waited in bookies before robbing cashier’ on page 4; and ‘Puppy snatcher avoids jail term’ on page 21.

Talking of courts, the 30 individual magistrates’ convictions that packed the ‘Before the Bench’ section on page 15 were as fascinating as ever, including what must have been a particularly riffy chap who pleaded guilty to stealing washing tablets from Morrisons.

I also enjoyed the 13 editorial obituaries that ran on pages 16 and 18 which I assume were free of charge, providing good local reads and enabling mourning relatives and friends to pay detailed respects.

There were well over 200 news, features and sports stories on 45 editorial pages, and with a 24-page Homes pull-out readers received decent value in a paper that cost them 70p.

The Observer is a 100pc paid-for title and sold an average of 8,706 copies a week at full price in 2013, a drop of just 5.8pc on 2012; I reckon it could hold an even steadier sale with a sensible sans-serif headline.

15 comments

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  • September 3, 2014 at 2:33 pm
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    Steve’s right, he is no fonts expert. It’s Glypha. And it he surely can’t be that surprised by it… it has been appearing all over the Birmingham Mail for the last couple of years, and indeed across Trinity Mirror’s stable of regional titles.
    And criticism of any typeface is a bit rich from the man who okayed the introduction of the awful Clearface Gothic during his disastrous redesign at the Mail…

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  • September 3, 2014 at 4:14 pm
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    A good read, up until the last 14 words. Then I laughed. Absolutely good design is important. But in this day and age no-one’s lost readers, casual or otherwise, because they will only read a sans-serif headline Steve.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 4:40 pm
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    ” I reckon it could hold an even steadier sale with a sensible sans-serif headline.”

    haha yeah right

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  • September 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm
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    The Birmingham Mail I buy has a sans-serif front page headline, ‘Freddie Free Font, Brum’… It’s latest white on red masthead seems to use something like what you say is ‘Glypha’, but that works for me. Just not as a caps header on page one.

    Meanwhile, perhaps you’re right, ‘multi-device user’, but me and my fellow hill walker both cringed at the Free Press and Observer headline font, which I maintain could be another hurdle to buying.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 5:19 pm
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    So the rickety barge containing the last of the old boys complaining about obscure fonts slips its moorings and sails serenely into the sunset. No-one on board notices, they are too engrossed in their discussion. People on the shore strain their ears to hear the last words. Someone said the really ancient one said something about an island
    called Sans Serif but they couldn’t be sure. As the rust bucket disappeared over the horizon, never to be seen or heard of again, all the people on land could hear was a distant, incoherent babble. When the last trace of the vessel had vanished, the people turned and went home to their iPads, phones and tablets.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 5:55 pm
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    “me and my fellow hill walker both cringed ”

    You’re not the only ones to cringe.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 6:14 pm
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    Ha! Love it, ‘Idle Rich’. Well said. Get me to the retirement home!

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  • September 4, 2014 at 1:04 pm
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    “Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
    Before we too into the dust descend;
    Dust into dust, and under dust, to lie
    Sans wine, sans song, sans singer, and—sans Serif!”

    (with apologies to Omar Khayyam).

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  • September 4, 2014 at 1:40 pm
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    I think the term is lines, not decks. I was told when a young sub that the terms are not synonymous. Decks are sets of headlines, usually in different fonts, over a single story. Very old fashioned and rarely seen these days though. The nearest equivalent you’ll find today is a strap, over a headline, over a standfirst. That’s three decks, no matter how many lines there are. That’s what I was told, anyway.

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  • September 4, 2014 at 3:38 pm
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    ” It’s latest white on red masthead……………..”

    Again, you’re not the only ones to cringe!

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  • September 4, 2014 at 10:59 pm
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    Anyone remember the Small Fortune one big paper group wasted paying a Spanish outfit for a redesign that could have been done in house?
    It was a disaster for sales, as well the eyes. No one got sacked for it.
    Staff paid for that when it came to pay rises.
    Sans serif or whatever a mere trifle.

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  • September 6, 2014 at 6:51 pm
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    Shouldn’t there be a hyphen in four hour siege?

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  • September 6, 2014 at 6:54 pm
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    And very possibly in well respected too
    And that it’s butt, not headbutt (You wouldn’t say footkick, an old boss of mine said).

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  • September 8, 2014 at 4:30 pm
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    Pappa Springs. Doncha No. Knowone Cheks Speling or Grammer Know Moore. Knot Eevan Editaws. Trew!

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  • September 10, 2014 at 2:07 pm
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    I don’t think Mr Dyson is the font of all knowledge…

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