I’ve always detested four-page commercial wraps on newspapers: you grab readers with great front pages, but you lose them if editorial is killed by adverts.
So imagine my surprise to find myself stopping, and buying for £1, The Hunts Post on Wednesday 25 June – despite the ugly Classic Kitchens jacket it was wearing.
It’s therefore ‘hats off’ to editor Andy Veale for the subtle yet eye-catching Jesus news teaser he insisted was ‘flashed’ across the top of the front page, effectively bringing the paper back to life.
The ‘Is it wrong to depict Jesus in this way?’ boost headline, with a small but interesting picture of a crucifixion on a village green, was just irresistible, forcing me to pick up the paper for a glance.
And then the even stronger headline, carried within a deeper boost on the ‘real’ page one, secured my purchase: ‘Straw pole – is it right to depict Jesus as a scarecrow?’
Quite simply, I couldn’t wait to settle down to explore this inside story properly, and once I was back in my parked car I chuckled aloud as I read it.
‘Town crowing over Jesus model’ reported that this was one of many entries in Godmanchester’s annual scarecrow festival, with others including Mary Poppins, the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and various characters from Lion King.
The Jesus scarecrow had prompted outraged debates on social media, but my favourite quote was the one in print from an unoffended vicar of Godmanchester, Rev David Underwood: “I think it’s a well-presented scarecrow done tastefully and not designed to make fun of anyone’s faith.”
Maybe so, vicar, in rural Huntingdonshire, but I’d dread to think of the response in inner city Birmingham if somebody erected a scarecrow Mohammed!
Anyway, once caught I was transfixed by this decent Archant weekly which had a circulation of 38,578 a week in the last ABCs, with 95.5pc delivered free door-to-door, and 1,760 paid for.
I enjoyed the ‘Mystery of unopened letter sent from France in 1921’ on page three – please, I thought, just open it and let us know what it says! – and other straight but important page leads that included:
- ‘Petition to end floods nightmare’ on page four;
- ‘Concern over road links after viaduct demolition’ on page nine;
- ‘Nightclub wins licence battle despite protests’ on page 11;
- ‘Plans revealed to merge courts’ on page 13;
- ‘Plan for 115,000 panel solar farm’ on page 14 (that’s one hell of a big solar farm, I found myself thinking); and
- ‘Fraud mechanic conned £30,000 out of victims’ on page 16.
There were more than 150 stories on 37 editorial pages in the 80-page main book, with another 30 reports in the eight-page ‘The Business’ section, plus a 64-page property pull-out.
And I was impressed with the four pages of paid-for births, marriages and deaths notices – always a good sign of a healthy newspaper with loyal readers.
My only criticism was the ‘splash’ headline on the ‘real’ front page: ‘Cheque-ing out of a prestige product’.
This weak phrase just didn’t do enough to take me into this decent story – Waitrose changing its mind over a new store site – as opposed to the wordsmith skills that nailed the much more sacred Jesus row.