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Dyson at Large: How free weekly battles city daily

It was interesting to see how the independent Coventry Observer has increased its editorial firepower for its battles with the daily Coventry Telegraph, owned by Trinity Mirror.

The weekly Observer, published by Bullivant Media, cheekily snapped up the services of investigative reporter Les Reid, who recently and controversially resigned from the Trinity Mirror-owned Coventry Telegraph.

Les provided the weekly Observer’s splash on Thursday 6 November, headlined: ‘City’s vital £300m revamp hits delays’, noting that a regeneration project by Coventry City Council had fallen 18 months behind schedule.

Coventry Observer news front

Interestingly, the previous day’s Coventry Telegraph ran a softer take on the same story headlined: ‘£300m Coventry city centre scheme not on hold’, and Telegraph reporter Simon Gilbert used Twitter to point out he was first.

“Apparently this story is an ‘exclusive’ elsewhere today… even though we had it online yesterday,” said Simon, via his @TheSimonGilbert account at 12.45am on 6 November.

He may technically have been first, but what was more interesting was that the stories were so different in their approaches – the Observer challenging the council over its delays, while the Telegraph was supportive of the council’s reassurance that the project was ‘not on hold’.

Whatever the reasons for these twists and turns on the same issue, such frenzied battles for local stories can only lead to one positive thing: a more informed readership.

Another subject the titles regularly seem to battle over are stories involving the contentious Ricoh Arena dispute – which Les wrote the splash on in the previous week’s Observer.

More decent leads that carried Les’ new byline in the Observer on 6 November included: ‘Children’s centres and libraries face axe to save money’, leading page five; ‘Sex attacks on young females are being linked’, on page 11; and ‘Key step taken in cancer blood test’, on page 13.

Other good stories from other reporters or without bylines included: ‘Post-hospital care home to be axed in cuts round’, on page six; ‘City children at risk among UK’s highest’, on page seven; ‘Sports club’s ‘initiation’ sparks complaints’, on page eight; ‘Mourner devastated by grave clearance’, on page nine; and ‘Information pleas after child hurt in hit-and-run’, on page 10.

The Observer, it should be noted, is a free newspaper delivered to 51,901 Coventry homes each week, and it was refreshing to find such a title willing to publish serious journalism.

Being a free, though, meant ugly wrap-around pages that failed to promote any of its content, instead advertising a rather unsightly chicken and chorizo sandwich from Subway.

Coventry Observer ad front

And the fact that Observer’s total story count was a miserly 51 news and sports reports on 20 editorial pages in a 48-page book hardly provides enough reading material per week against the Telegraph’s six-day efforts.

Bullivant Media has been competing with Trinity Mirror in the West Midlands for more than a decade, with the Coventry Observer itself launched back in 2002.

But if the independent really wants to make its title a serious rival to the Telegraph, it needs to consider upping its editorial ratio, however difficult that is in the free market.

It might also be a good idea to promote leading stories in the space available to the right of the masthead on advertising wraps.

Meanwhile, I’ll be taking a look at the Coventry Telegraph in the next few weeks – or certainly as soon as it’s replaced its recently departed editor Alun Thorne, who’s now working in PR.


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  • November 19, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Perhaps Steve could take a look at some of JPs frees. Some are news free zones and truly pathetic. The Coventry one is a gem in comparison.

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  • November 19, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    So much to go at here. First off, why is one story ‘hard’ and one ‘soft’? Is a negative story always ‘hard’ and one which on the face of it feels more balanced, ‘soft?’

    There’s an assumption that positive is just spin, when it could just as easily be the case that it’s, er, the truth.

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  • November 26, 2014 at 8:48 am

    You cannot look at most frees in terms of their worth as a newspaper, with some very honourable exceptions. Many of JP’s frees are there as advertising vehicles, mass delivered, in the same markets as strong paid for newspapers. In those cases the free is there to soak up cheap end advertising revenue and act as a buffer for the paid for. Whether this approach should change, and the newsy free should become a staple, is another matter. But while the strong paid for/non newsy free model exists, you cannot bash the frees for not being a newspaper. They are not meant to be.

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  • November 30, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Once upon a time, when the Coventry Evening Telegraph was a proper newspaper, it saw (correctly) the nationals as its competition, not the freesheet.

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  • December 1, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Good explanation Idle Rich. But they really annoy people through their poor quality when they drop through the letter box and they just get dumped without “reading”.
    So no-one sees the ads. What’s the point? Just more junk through the door.

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