It had been a long day up in Scotland, and I was quite looking forward to reading my book when travelling back south.
But once the The Courier’s emotive headline caught my eye on Wednesday 26 October, I was quickly at the counter shelling out 85p for my copy.
The Dundee paper’s crop of the toddler’s grieving parents gave the story a raw edge, with the clear sub-heading ‘Coupar Angus: Two-year-old Harlow Edwards laid to rest’ reminding readers who this was about.
Initially, I thought: ‘Why have you not told us what happened?’, but the recall that little Harlow had been hit by a car was in the second paragraph, and I quickly realised this story had been in the headlines for nearly two weeks.
And as I read through the rest of the paper, there was no doubt why The Courier – based in a city of less than 150,000 – is still selling 41,243 copies a day, dwarfing the sale of papers in bigger cities like Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham and Bristol.
The answer is an unerring insistence on hard news in print, as shown by this sad story that locals would have wanted to feel a grieving part of, from accident to burial.
Had this tragedy not happened, there were several other hard news stories that could easily have made the splash, including:
- ‘Dundee-born climate expert dies in tragic Antarctic accident’ on page three;
- ‘Sneak thief slipped into church and stole from collection box’ on page four;
- ‘Brutal attacks on Perth Prison staff revealed’ on page eight; and
- ‘Swastika man avoids jail term’ on page five.
Seriously, there were just so many hard news stories grabbing my attention, from ‘Man snared as he tried to auction tiger claws’ on page two, to ‘Bin lorry driver jailed for causing death of wheelchair user’ on page 18.
It’s not just a case of The Courier having a market all to itself: it competes for readers with its sister paper, the Evening Telegraph, another gritty title that was reviewed here last year.
Then there are the other Scottish papers on sale in the urban area, plus the nationals, and all the online and broadcast news that’s available, making Dundee’s media marketplace as tough as any UK city’s.
But The Courier knows its readers, and simply covers the right kind of stories and projects them unapologetically throughout, seemingly acting in a way that says: ‘This newspaper carries the main news in this area, and we’re going to tell you exactly like it is’.
There was more than news, of course, with several pages of comment, columns, business, nostalgia and sport, along with an impressive serialisation of a local book on page 27 (it was ‘Day 51’!).
With all this focus on print, does The Courier even have a website? Of course it does, and www.thecourier.co.uk looks just as newsy for anyone wanting their daily read on screens – once they’ve registered to gain full access.
What’s that, a registration? Yes, this newspaper – like some other DC Thomson titles – wants to know who you are before it gives you the freedom to roam its hard-worked content, which sounds common sense when you remember that digital advertisers need so much persuasion about audiences.
Another thing about The Courier’s website: you won’t find its address in the masthead or anywhere else on page one, nor on the back page, nor endlessly repeated on every page’s dateline like you see in so many regionals these days.
It’s in there, but not shouting at you, and only once, in a font-size smaller than the body type, at the foot of the contacts column on page two; nowhere else, not even on the letters spread.
This conscious decision not to ‘sell’ the website is so counter-intuitive, but it’s also so sensible when you start to think about how best to retain those readers who are currently keen to pay the best part of a pound to buy your printed paper every day.
Yes, yes, of course the industry needs to invest time, money, staff and brainpower into attempts at making profits from being ‘web-first’, (even if that mantra in its various guises is becoming as annoying as the meaningless ‘Brexit-means-Brexit’ chant).
And before anyone utters their dismay at me being such a recalcitrant Luddite, please make sure you’re maintaining as much resource on delivering good hard news in print as you’re on creating online click-bait.