Maybe it was the Bristol Post’s use of such a limp montage of multiple artists’ impressions as the main image.
Then again, it might have been how the paper’s regular, upside down L-shaped boost area forced the splash into such a tight left-hand space.
Or perhaps it was the all-round lack of page one design structure, with floating blurbs on various levels in different typefaces, not helped by a detailed advert competing for focus.
In the end, all of the above combined to leave me scratching my head and struggling to say something positive about the front page on Thursday 29 January.
This was a shame, because I’ve always liked the semi-mythological history of the Post – ‘the paper all of Bristol asked for and helped to create’ – and I love the modern, vibrant, cyclist-friendly feel of the city centre it serves.
But the splash, headlined ‘ARENA DESIGNS REVEALED’, just didn’t tickle my fancy, not helped by that sorry medley of images, and my lack of enthusiasm sank further when they were displayed separately across pages two and three.
Were the pictures’ qualities so poor that they only deserved to be used at this size, or was it that they were so dull – vague, pastel-coloured shapes of buildings with little context – that the Post decided they just wouldn’t work any larger?
Whichever the case, both surely meant that the image-led report shouldn’t have filled the majority of pages one, two and three.
A much better story with richer content was the local GCSE and A-Level tables promised in the front page boost, although readers had to wait until after the fold for this informative spread on pages 28 and 29.
There was at least a news story pulled out of these figures, and this made a good lead on page five, headlined ‘School among country’s top 1% for pupil progress’, along with summary ‘top ten’ and ‘bottom ten’ lists.
But with a sharper headline, this could easily have made a better splash, with the tables instead laid out in all their glory on an early spread – relegating the arena design choices to deeper inside pages.
There were some other sound reads inside the Post, such as the news-feature about the 40-year career of zoo keeper John Partridge, with his tales of how he helped Johnny Morris’ Animal Magic TV series, leading page four.
And I liked the courts coverage, including: ‘Driver found with shoebox stuffed with £80k jailed’ leading page 17; and ‘Glitter sobs as he talks about Bristol porn shame’ leading page 27.
However, for me there was too much soft news in the front end, such as: ‘Bristol dates for ‘King of Cool’ Burt Bacharach’ leading page six, ‘Cheers[:] Tickets go on sale at weekend for beer festival’ leading page eight; and ‘National exposure[:] Acclaimed drama heads to the capital’ on page 12, (the colons in the headlines are mine – in the paper the first words were in colour).
We all like a bit of entertainment, but I felt the rock booking, beer festival and theatre success might have better strengthened weak feature sections mid-book, where an entire spread on lightsaber fitness classes across pages 22 and 23 and a lead with the passé headline ‘Is coffee the new beer?’ on page 24 had me quickly flicking past.
Sport seemed better organised, with straightforward headlines, pictures and stories leaving readers knowing where they were and what they were getting.
The sports sequence was easily fathomable too: a Bristol City back splash, then four pages of rugby and football reports and previews, then a spread of decent opinion pages, then six pages of local and junior sport with reams of tables.
The rest of the Bristol Post had enough content – in all, more than 170 reports on 47 editorial pages in a 52-page book, plus 12-page motoring and 8-page travel pull-outs – but the news and features content deserves better ordering, and that page one shape needs more thought.
The Post, published by Local World, sold an average of 25,182 copies in the first half of 2014, with a cover price of 60p Monday to Thursday and 75p for the thicker weekend edition on Fridays.