The choice of splash in the Paisley Daily Express on Saturday 1 March was spot on: ‘Crazed dog to be destroyed’.
This dramatic, impressively detailed court story would have attracted readers of all ages – pet lovers and haters – who wanted to discover the fate of Reggie the boxer, whose mauling of a woman and Ralph, her toy Shih Tzu dog, had previously been reported by the Express.
We all know how popular pet stories are, and those that involve out-of-control dogs and death sentences tend to go viral.
This combination of what sounded like a horrible attack, and the Sheriff’s final condemnation after Reggie’s owner refused to pay for training and misbehaviour classes, made a fascinating read.
Another splash contender was ‘Knife thug slashes man’, which was arguably more newsworthy, but such crimes are so ubiquitous that I think the news desk made the right call to place it on page five.
A local sunset picture from a reader took up half of page two, and felt a little incongruous with foreign news down page, albeit they had grabbing headlines: the lead was ‘A man walks into a bar… with a tiger’, and a stick was ‘You’ve goat to be joking’, about bestiality in Nigeria.
‘Gordon really did a quickstep’ led page three, a bit of a convoluted story about a local teacher’s breathless lesson with Strictly Come Dancing star Kristina Rihanoff.
‘Thanks for your support’ led page four, a decent enough tale about local whisky distillery workers who’d raised £7,000 for local charity – but the headline was a little uninspiring, as was the cheque picture.
The remaining news leads were: ‘Rail passenger boost for Paisley’ on page seven; ‘Chamber boss tipped for top director award’ on page eight; and ‘New firms do the business in Paisley’ on page nine.
And that was about it – a total of 20 news stories on eight traditional news pages, which for me seemed to be too little, spread too thinly.
There was a ‘Paisley’s past’ section of news archives on page six, which are always worth a read; a ‘Church News’ UGC round-up on page 10; and six more readers’ pictures of flowers, nature and traffic filling a spread on pages 12 and 13 (note there were no humans or animals in these pictures).
But in a main book of 24 pages that only contained 63 stories on 20 editorial pages (including two features, two TV and four sports pages), I think the story count per page should have been higher, and that two-and-a-half pages of readers’ pictures was stretching it.
A 16-page ‘Saturday Extra’ pull-out almost came to the rescue – except that this was entirely made up of group features produced in Liverpool for all Trinity Mirror titles.
There’s nothing wrong with a few generic features on film stars, food and drink, fashion, books, travel, gardening and gadgets, and the central features unit produces some quality; but when this non-local copy and pictures make up 40pc of an edition you start to wonder if readers will feel short-changed.
Talking of which, despite its pagination, the ‘wee Express’ (apparently this is how it’s known locally) is pretty good value for money: its sales were boosted when its cover price fell from 45p to 20p in the summer of 2012, and although there have been price rises since it’s still only 40p a day – low compared to most regional dailies.
Until recently, the paper was often applauded for its popularity in Paisley, with sales slowly rising from 10,768 in 1999 to 11,228 in 2005 – not bad for a daily serving a town smaller than Redditch, and one that exists so close to Glasgow and its Evening Times.
The recession, editorial cut-backs and online surges mean sales have dropped off since 2005 like they have for many regionals, but it’s at a slower pace in Paisley: the last ABC figures were 6,767 for the second half of 2013, a -6.4pc fall year-on-year, and -39pc drop over eight years.
Yes, both figures are sobering, but they are below the average trend declines for many regional dailies; it will be interesting, however, to see how long Paisley can afford to remain a daily once those sales drop below 6,000.
Then again, this is a paper that’s always existed on low overheads, and if the news room really does only contain an editor (John Hutcheson), news editor and eight reporters – as listed on page two – then it’s doing a fine job to fill the paper six days a week.
Let’s just hope that Jonathan Russell’s new role as publishing director for Trinity Mirror’s regional titles in Scotland means that the ‘wee Express’ – which he once edited – won’t be overlooked for a little more pagination and resource, or be made to feel too homogeneous, or else the readers will quickly decide its future.