The Grantham Target was launched by Local World at the beginning of this year, in a bid to wrestle readers and advertisers from the Grantham Journal, the Johnston Press title that has served the town since 1854.
So let’s compare a week’s clash between the two weekly titles, which neither the prospective Trinity empire nor the existing Johnston battler will want to lose.
All newspaper comparisons start with the front page, and at first glance this is clearly won by the Journal, with the better human interest story and use of picture in its Friday 23 October edition.
‘Shock as popular GP dies suddenly’ was likely to have both grabbed readers and gotten them talking, Dr Mukesh Patel having worked in the market town for more than 30 years.
There was nothing awful about the Target’s ‘George Centre back on sale’ splash on Wednesday 21 October, but the ownership of a shopping centre just doesn’t measure up against the death of a popular public figure.
The Journal’s page one victory was enhanced by clearer blurbs: ‘Win tickets to see The Carpenters Story’ and ‘Grantham is Great Awards’ were both quite definite; it also managed ‘Jury sees phone records and video’ as a second news lead, albeit with a weakish headline for a drugs gang case.
The Target’s boost panel contained some decent content, but its jumbled design and wordy appearance meant too much effort for readers wanting to know at a glance what was inside.
What soon became too cluttered included: ‘NEWS: Iconic St Wulfran’s in minster move talks’, ‘DON’T FORGET! Put your clocks back one hour this Sunday morning’, ‘NEWS: Mobile service easing the pain for cancer patients’, ‘SPORT: Horton leaves the Gingerbreads’ and ‘BIG SCREEN: Catch the latest cinema releases in our WHAT’SON section’.
A better approach, surely, would have been to concentrate on the cancer patients and football boss story, rather than hiding them within too many less important and sticky label-shaped panels.
What looked like the best three leads inside the Journal were: ‘My daughter’s suffering after HPV vaccination’ on page three, ‘Fight against fouling along canal continues’ on page 10 (although ‘continues’ should be banned from headlines as it basically means ‘move along, nothing new here’), and ‘Protest against pub closure gathers pace’ on page 11 (‘gathers pace’ also jars).
I say ‘best’ because they were among a mediocre lot, much weaker headlines including: ‘BID project secures loan of up to £27,000’ leading page five (which prompts a shrug), ‘Project launched to help integrate the area’s growing migrant workforce’ leading a spread across pages six and seven (worthy issue, dull description), and ‘SKDC puts up £10k for events’ (another shrug).
The Journal badly needed to spot the human story on inside pages rather than putting readers off with uninteresting headlines that fail to grip the imagination.
Because of this, the Target’s accurate, brief and clear inside leads came out winners: ‘Man has jaw broken after girlfriend row’ on page three, ‘Drugs were seized from organised crime gang’ on page five, ‘Cash surprise the answer to church prayers’ on page eight and ‘Roadblocks used to end car mayhem’ on page 12.
It was pleasing to see dedicated coverage of magistrates’ in both papers, although the 28 cases in the Target’s ‘In Court’ section on page 23 scored higher than the 16 cases on the Journal’s ‘Court round-up’ on page 14.
That said, the Journal had the highest total story count: more than 170 reads on 50 editorial pages in a 96-page book, versus the Target’s 115 reads on 46 editorial pages (12 pages supporting a chunky 32-page ‘Motoring’ section), also in a 96-page book.
Put simply, the Journal contained more news, sport and (just) features, but then the Target only costs 50p, whereas the Journal’s cover price is nearly double at 95p (unless you choose to subscribe, in which case it’s still more than 50pc more at 76p).
Finally, the Journal pipped the Target to the post on the back page, with its ‘CEO Horton walks out on the Gingerbreads’ feeling newsier than the Target’s ‘Stevens: we must hunt in packs against Ilkeston’ (it only carried five pars on Horton, which may have been a late-breaking story).
So who won this battle of Grantham in the penultimate week of October? My verdict is that the Journal reigns because of its well-executed front and back, despite valiant efforts on inside pages from the great-value Target.
It was a close call though, and the Target feels like it’s established itself as a good read in less than year, so the Journal needs to post some extra sentries.
For anyone looking for sales comparisons, the Target is registered with ABC but its first certificate is yet to be issued, while the Journal has been deregistered (it was selling around 15,000 when I reviewed it three years ago).
Footnote: In what to me are baffling tactics, the invading Target is printed by the Johnston Press, the publisher of the defending Journal. Rumours abound that Trinity Mirror is already shuffling press schedules …