There’s nothing as gripping as the emotive ‘talkie’ headline, as long as it’s juxtaposed with the right subject, pictures and design.
The Hartlepool Mail used all these ingredients with style on Friday 10 October, with a personal pronoun, the finality of ‘dead’ and the immediacy of ‘now’ all pulling the reader into a full and shocking report.
The splash sub’s positioning of the brutish, custody-style mugshot of killer Paul Smart and the oval, memorial-style picture of victim Angela Smeaton were near-perfect, and the well-crafted sub-heading then told the story in 12 simple words.
Whatever the advances of the online world, no medium but print can gather the components of such tragedies so expertly, presenting at-a-glance snapshots of what become must-reads for local audiences.
The inside spread, under the headline ‘Life for frenzied knife slaying’, included the full court report, backgrounder, a transcript of Smart’s chilling 999 call, CID comments and, importantly, a panel highlighting five different helplines and refuges available to women in violent relationships.
This main story aside, the rest of the Mail’s page one also felt strong: a striking masthead, a suitable width for a side column that contained a news write-off and three content boosts, and a stand-out content strap creating a useful divider between editorial and advert.
As often is the case with Johnston Press papers, the insistence on a page two full of content boosts felt like a real waste of space, and I do wish that someone, somewhere would review this group-wide mish-mash.
In a paper that has only 56 pages on an advert-packed Friday, page two would have been better used for a round-up of courts, council meetings or other grassroots news.
But there were half-decent local stories running throughout the rest of the Mail including: ‘£17m school builds begin’ leading page three; ‘Club boss to close night spot’ leading page seven; ‘Who turned off the street lights?’ leading page nine; ‘Register office to be sold’ leading page 11; and ‘Cannabis farmer spared jail after giving up 19-year habit’ on page 15.
There was an interesting spread headlined ‘Last orders as Krimo’s calls it quits’ that started on page 22, a picture-led walk through the history of one of the town’s favourite restaurants.
And there was some meaty editorial in sport, with nine stories covering a managerless Hartlepool United from every angle on the first three pages, a page covering the other north east teams, a page on England’s 5-0 San Marino win, and three more pages covering local rugby, boxing, non-league and district football, and race cards.
What had been an enjoyable read – page two aside – was only spoilt when I glanced at the Hartlepool Mail’s ABC figure: an average sale of 8,820 in the first half of 2014, 58pc down on the 20,873 it sold in 2004.
This drop is not much different to the average ten-year decline of most dailies across the UK, but now the Mail’s sale is under the 10,000 ‘barrier’ it seems inevitable that it will be converted to a weekly or bi-weekly within the next few years.