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Regional daily loses thousands of sales with gay kiss splash

A regional daily editor has revealed that his paper’s sales plummeted by thousands last Monday – after it featured a gay kiss on the front page.

The Bristol Post splashed on the wedding of Mike McBeth and Matthew Symonds, who tied the knot last weekend after the legalisation of gay marriage came into effect.

But editor Mike Norton has revealed that that despite receiving only nine phonecalls of complaint, sales of the paper dropped by thousands.

Mike has now asked readers whether he went “too far” by illustrating the story with a picture of the happy couple’s first kiss.

In a blog post, Mike wrote:  “I’m a Bristolian, brought up in South Bristol. Real Bristol. One of the things I love about my home town is how characterful, tolerant and non-conformist its people are. So I thought Bristol was ready for that picture.

“But, boy, was I wrong. We lost thousands of sales of the paper. Which surprised me. Because, on the day, we received just nine phone calls of complaint.

“I’ve asked a lot of people about that picture, friends and relatives from all walks of life and all parts of the city. Absolutely no one I’ve spoken to admits to finding it offensive.

“But, clearly, what people say and what people do are different. Of course, I knew that. But I didn’t think it would apply in this case.

“So – at the risk of attracting every troll in the vicinity – I’ve decided to ask the internet. I want to hear from the people who didn’t buy the paper because of that picture.

“Tell me why. I ask only that you are reasoned and honest. But I want to start a dialogue and genuinely understand why the picture put you off.”

Mike’s post sparked a range of reactions in the comments, with one reader accusing him of having run the picture to get a reaction.

Posting under the name A_Mushroom, he wrote:  “I think you knew exactly what you were doing when you published that photograph. You do it because you know it stirs up a reaction amongst your readers. Only this time you misjudged the reaction.

“You’ve been in this game long enough to understand your readers and there is a fair proportion in the ‘Daily Mail’ reader demographic. You knew they would be outraged but what you weren’t prepared for was them stopping buying the paper. Live and learn.”

However another commenter, studog, wrote: “Hopefully someday, articles like this won’t even need to exist. People who are still offended by a gay kiss are a dying breed.”

38 comments

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  • April 7, 2014 at 8:43 am
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    Not sure why Mr Norton is surprised. Whether it’s scrapping of editions, baffling re-designs, misguided ‘good news’ policies or the sacking of good people while highly paid executives dream of the latest gadgetry for their penthouses, those steering the Bristol Post for the past few years have made an art form of misjudging their market. One look at the internal sales figures I see confirms it. Woeful.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 10:13 am
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    Be interesting to see the circulation fall more precisely.
    Is he saying it dropped 10% or 15% or 30%?
    Was the fall regained in full the following day?
    Puzzled by his comment re the contrast between the nine calls and the ‘thousands’ on lost sales.
    Presumably the former came from readers who had the paper delivered. You can see why customers who walked into their local newsagent might shy away from the pic, but it’s hard to imagine they’d then pick up their phone to complain.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 10:24 am
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    Er…well basically …. Wouldn’t sales have slumped because the front page is so awful? Nowt wrong with the kiss, but there ‘s no news at all! Just cut outs and promo’s!

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  • April 7, 2014 at 10:42 am
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    It’s a useful reminder that the media does rather exist in a liberal bubble. Most people are pretty traditional in their views, despite all the hectoring from the media about diversity and tolerance.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 10:51 am
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    It’s horrible. Only the BBC or The Guardian would do something like that.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 11:23 am
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    A truly dreadful front page on more than one level and an important lesson to editors who still think they know their readers.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 12:15 pm
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    In agreement with USA Hack. There is no news. Awful front page.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 12:30 pm
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    The front page is appallingly designed. There’s nowhere for the eye to go. No wonder sales were down.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm
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    Most people detest this kind of picture.
    We’ve heard enough from the gay lobby in recent years without having their lifestyle foisted on us every day of the week.
    This kind of thing would probably go down okay in London, a bastion of faux tolerance, but not in a solid provincial city like Bristol.
    The editor got it wrong. He misjudged his readership.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm
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    The gay lobby have done a great job of shouting everyone down, so that if you speak up against this sort of thing you are labelled a bigot etc etc. They only want freedom of speech when someone agrees with them. Most people don’t find this kind of thing agreeable, a man kissing another man is offensive to many people. If it’s on the cover of a paper then they get a chance to reject it, without fear of the pro-gay lobby attacking them.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 2:45 pm
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    Wow, some shockingly conservative views here! I think Mr Norton did exactly the right thing – it was an historic moment which well deserves to be the splash. Nobody bats an eyelid at a straight couple sharing a kiss on their wedding day and anyone who has a problem with homosexuality nowadays needs to get out of the dark ages!

    Well done Bristol Post!

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  • April 7, 2014 at 3:51 pm
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    What with this guy and the Reading Chronicle fella, I’m starting to think regional newspapers editors have suffered a collective bang on the head.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 3:51 pm
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    I disagree strongly with those who say this is not news…it’s certainly news to the many gay people who can now, for the first time in history, marry on equal terms with ‘straight’ couples.
    But I also think Kendo Nagasaki has it right..this is a reminder of the moral conservatism of many people who still buy local and regional newspapers. Sit in your local pub and you don’t have to wait too long to hear evidence of lingering sexism, racism and homophobia. Ordinary people don’t speak in the same terms as leader writers, and the humour of ordinary people often trades in the very stereotypes which have long fuelled the careers of comedians such as Jim Davidson. It may be uncomfortable, but that’s the truth. It may offend our liberal sensibilities, but a lot of people still squirm at the vision of two men kissing.
    The irony is that the industry still needs the money of these ‘homophobic’ newspaper-buying dinosaurs while it can figure out how to make that whizzy new digital future pay.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 3:55 pm
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    Two unshaven men kissing……grossly insensitive to what are probably Bristol’s mainly heterosexual readership…….

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  • April 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm
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    Yes, nothing to read here. Headline: Man kisses man shocker ….

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  • April 7, 2014 at 4:20 pm
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    Just shows there’s a lot of homophobia out there, including some contributors to this thread, judging by the tone of some of the replies. Very much from the ”I’m not racist but…” brigade.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 4:25 pm
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    I’m afraid the real reason the post is losing readers is that there is so little news in the paper. I know many regional dailies have faced cutbacks but there can be few papers out there that have decreased their news content by as much as the post.
    The new design – which appears more like a magazine – may fool the managing directors but the readers know when there is nothing in there. Bristol is a lively city – but you would not know it if you bought a copy of the post.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 4:39 pm
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    I fully expect the UK to suffer some more serious flooding because of this.

    Thank you Bristol Post!

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  • April 7, 2014 at 4:43 pm
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    So now people can stop complaining that the press is bigoted and accept that not all the good old general public are as enlightened as they like to think.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 5:07 pm
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    It’s a shame that some of the people commenting here didn’t read the story. The drop in readers is not about ‘so little news in the paper’ or ‘the front page is so awful…there ‘s no news at all’. The front page has had that same design for a while. The sudden drop in circulation is purely about the photo.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 5:08 pm
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    I doubt the paper lost thousands of readers overnight because the front page looks cluttered…

    A big chunk of the readership will probably be elderly who may be more traditional in their views of their world. Plus – as someone who has no problem with the contents of the story – I’d be uncomfortable with picking that up and carrying it around a supermarket. As silly as that sounds, it’s true…

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  • April 7, 2014 at 5:44 pm
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    I’m not at all concerned by a picture of two men kissing but I’m worried that there seems to be very little news on the front page of what is ostensibly a newspaper.

    I started out in journalism as a work experience lad on the Post (then called the Evening Post) and moved from there to doing the odd paid shift while studying my NCTJ.

    I remember it being a decent read back then, with a good mix of hard news and community stories. It felt like it knew its city and its readers well.

    As Bristol Lover says, it now looks more like a magazine. I endorse good design and wouldn’t deny that it’s an attractive layout, but it also appears alarmingly superficial.

    A lot of local papers seem to be having snazzy redesigns these days – in the hope, I would imagine, that readers won’t notice the lack of actual content.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 7:37 pm
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    Imagine the worst front page, pictures and text splattered about, no need to imagine, I just saw it. A large percentage of the population do not like or care about gay marriage. So any casual readers looking at the poorly composed blokes kissing would be put off, now if it was a pair of fit lesbians kissing, then the sales would have rocketed.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 9:07 pm
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    The fact that the editor thought this deserved a front-page splash says a lot more about him than the plummeting sales say about the readers who decided not to bother that day. It also says a lot about the editor that he talked of taking “…the risk of attracting every troll in the vicinity”. What contempt this person has for his readership!
    Believe it or not, the majority of the population don’t care what people get up to in the privacy and comfort of their own bedroom; other people’s “pelvic negotiations” are of no interest. Only narcissists think anyone else wants to watch their private business. Keep it private, boys and girls, and you will find everyone pretty tolerant. If you insist on shoving it in our faces, don’t be surprised if we turn away – or even kick back.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 9:25 pm
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    This is the paper whose editor, unveiling a “radical revamp” last September, said in HTFP: “It’s bright, modern and aimed more at celebrating the city and the success of its people than accentuating what is negative about Bristol.” It appears the struggle to accentuate the positive and dispense with hidebound negativity has led to this bizarre decision. Celebration of success is good. Editorial failure is not.

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  • April 7, 2014 at 9:54 pm
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    Urgh! Stubble rash. Nothing more off-putting (than having it shoved in your face in more ways than one, methinks).

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  • April 7, 2014 at 9:56 pm
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    No one admits to finding it offensive for fear of being branded homophobic…but a majority of people find gay relationships and therefore intimacy abhorrent..

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  • April 8, 2014 at 1:17 pm
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    It’s 2014. The law has changed. People should just get over it and move on!

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  • April 8, 2014 at 6:03 pm
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    This editor should have known better. If he wanted to show gays kissing he should have used two young women, both blonde, and preferably dressed as nurses. His decision to use realistic gays was an unforgivable lapse in judgement.

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  • April 8, 2014 at 6:14 pm
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    “I’ve asked a lot of people about that picture, friends and relatives from all walks of life and all parts of the city. Absolutely no one I’ve spoken to admits to finding it offensive.”……BUT most people do find it offensive,but saying so would find them being classed as homophobic……

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  • April 9, 2014 at 5:34 am
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    This is a powerful reminder that normal people don’t want sodomy rammed down their throats – take that as you wish.

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  • April 12, 2014 at 9:44 am
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    Many unsavoury things are lawful, including adultery. That does not mean they are right or good for society. Gay marriage supporters are, in the main, intolerant of those who support traditional marriage which by all known research is the best place in which to raise children. Why support an institution which is not the best in which to raise the next generation? Thankfully the vast majority of the population still support the lifelong union of a man and a woman for life.

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  • April 13, 2014 at 10:53 am
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    Most people simply have a natural instinctive reaction to such a picture and find it utterly repugnant. This i not an intellectual thing to be thought out but just instinctive. This is very unlikely to change. Many are afraid of the gay lobby which is a bully. What is said in public can be afferent from what people truly FEEL.

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  • April 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm
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    So glad to hear that the sales plummeted. Hopefully the paper and similar journals, will note that although many people will be too polite to object publicly, at heart, most reasonable people find such public behaviour offensive. Perhaps those who promote Gay Rights Marches will also realize that the same feelings of disgust are not always expressed but are deeply felt.

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  • April 15, 2014 at 8:47 pm
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    I am heterosexual, so obviously like most heterosexual men, I don’t like the photo …. a gut reaction. A lot of PC people try to convince themselves that two men kissing is not abnormal. But it is. As much as I love the homosexual people I know and have met (mostly), you cannot normalise the abnormal. Man and woman have all the right genitalia, man and man don’t. You don’t even need to go to the procreation of children etc.. What the answer is, I don’t know, but putting pictures of homosexual men kissing in a newspaper will bring out honest reactions to it. That is what has happened. Of course, when you do a street survey, everyone wants to be so fair minded and PC, so they tell lies basically like: “Oh yes, I think homosexuality is fine …. as long as they don’t harm anyone” etc., etc.. ad nauseum. Now you see the true reaction with thousands of people switching off. And don’t come the old ‘homophobic’ rubbish. ‘Fear’ of gays?? I really don’t fear gays at all, neither do the majority of people. The metropolitan liberal classes used to use that tactic with ‘racism’ when you even mentioned immigration (xenophobe). Certainly a good way of gagging people. So let’s stop pretending that gays kissing passionately all looks so normal …. it doesn’t!

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  • April 15, 2014 at 9:05 pm
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    By the way, to the guy who said ‘get over it’, regarding same sex marriage. The law changed because Cameron rammed it through without any consultation with the British people. Democracy? You must be joking. It wasn’t even in the Tory manifesto pledges that a majority of people voted these people into government for! You will find that if he had held a referendum on the issue, there would have been an overwhelming vote of ‘NO’. He knew that, just as he knows if he holds a referendum on Europe, it also will result in ‘NO’. We are so tolerant and soft now as a nation, we will soon be hanging off the end of the sinking ship as it slides under.

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  • April 22, 2014 at 9:01 pm
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    Won’t get very far blaming your readers.
    Trying to throw a gigantic guilt trip on them won’t go down too well.
    Nothing wrong with a gay kiss but on this day many who were on the opposite side of the argument may have seen it as triumphalist.
    Change does not comeby ramming it down people’s throats but by bringing them with you. If I was the owner of the title I would sack the editor.
    Many people who are not homophobic, who believe in freedom of expression but who thought that maybe marriage was sacred may have been upset by this. They are not queer bashers or bigots just people with certain religious views. They fear their deeply held convictions being trampled on.
    Tolerance is one thing. People probably accepted gay marriage as enevitable but maybe they didnt want it thrust in their face

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