Hold the back page! Should sport always be there?

The answer, if you’re the Liverpool Echo, Birmingham Mail or Yorkshire Evening Post is ‘of course!’ But what if you don’t have big clubs like Liverpool Football Club, Aston Villa or Leeds (they still count as a big club, right?) to fill your back page.

I ask the question because, this weekend, I was flicking through a copy of one of my favourite weekly newspapers, The Westmorland Gazette. I’m not sure if it’s because I love the area it serves – the Lake District – or whether it’s because it so clearly feels like it’s part of the community – every time I stay up there, the local hotel or holiday cottage guidebook has a line in telling me to buy it to find out what to do – that makes me like it so much, or whether it’s because it’s actually just a very good newspaper. Which it clearly is.

Anyway, it’s the back page which I always spend the most time reading … and not because of the sport. Because there’s none there:

Westmorland Gazette back page

Westmorland Gazette back page

Not because there isn’t any sport in the area. There is page, and it get great coverage on the pages inside behind the ‘digest’ page which instead gets the back page.


How a restaurant turned to a local newspaper’s display ad department to make a customer’s wish come true

So, you see a national restaurant chain offering to make Christmas wishes come true. You know that by placing your wish on a tree in a branch of said restaurant, said restaurant will donate 50p to a charity. You’re feeling all warm and fuzzy already.

So what do you wish for? And what are the odds of it coming true?

Well, Adam Newell of Penrith took part in the promotion at Wagamama and he wanted a big advert in the paper saying how ace his wife was.


Storm central: Front pages from when the rain came down and the floods…

Today, the newspaper news stands were all about the death of Nelson Mandela, at least on all of the national newspapers.

But for regional newspapers, particularly those in in the Midlands, north east and north west, it was the weather which took centre stage.

For some titles, this may be because overnight deadlines are in the early evening, meaning that Mandela’s death, announced as it was after 9pm, was too late for the print edition.

Many others, however, will have had a choice – go with the late-breaking international news story which will have developed significantly online and through the broadcast media by the time the paper hits the stands and which probably can’t compete with the pre-planned coverage national newspapers may well have had to hand, or stand out with local coverage of the story no-one else will be covering.

For me, that choice became a no-brainer – apart from titles such as the Western Mail which have a legitimate claim to being a national newspaper for the area (in its case, a country) it serves – when I watched the BBC News at 10pm. The BBC’s national coverage was without fault, but the regional news – BBC North West where I live – was utterly bizarre.

Having heard world leaders pay tribute, meticulous obituaries and pre-planned analysis on the national news, BBC North West delivered a reporter in the studio relaying Tweets from Kenny Dalglish and Rio Ferdinand plus a man, from the north west, who once painted Mandela – I think.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you have a strength, you should always play to it. The local media’s strength is being, well, local, and this selection of newspaper front pages from storm-hit areas yesterday, proves just how strong that strength can be:


It’s a boy! The only headline for a right royal occasion


The Blackpool Gazette struck lucky with a very obviously local angle to the royal birth

A little later than planned, I’ve scooped up what the regional press did on the day after William and Kate announced the arrival of Prince George – although by then, he was just the new royal prince.

The story broke at around 8.30pm on Monday night – giving regional newspapers an interesting dilemma. Thanks to overnight printing in most newsrooms (which I still don’t think is the bad thing it’s often made out to be!), the story fell right into ‘our time.’

But with wall-to-wall saturation coverage, Kay Burley bouncing as though she’s been force-fed Haribos and the heavy artillery coverage the national press had poised and ready to go … was the greater opportunity in providing something a little different on the newsstands?

I imagine it probably came down, in part, to two things: How close deadline was, and, perhaps more importantly, what the readerships’ perceived view of the royal family is. I know a former news editor on a large regional daily who used to say one of the big attractions of moving to that paper was the fact its readers were said to hate the royal family.

Anyway, when was the last time the same headline appeared on the front of so many regional papers on the same day?

Great minds think a like – and it’s the first thing everyone asks anyway.

Other front pages going big on the baby included (I liked the Blackpool Gazette especially):

And what was making the front page for those papers which chose not to cover the royal birth on the front page? Well, since you asked:

10 useful websites for ‘rainy day’ stories

A rainy day in Bury

Holdthefrontpage used to have a interesting, and updated daily, section called ‘story ideas.‘ The idea was simple – you have slow news days, and these were ideas to see you through.

A rainy day in Bury,  obviously, isn’t news. However, hopefully these 10 websites could be of use. Yes, some of them are obvious, but I thought I’d list them all the same.


A striking image to mark play-off defeat



I picked up this newspaper while staying with relatives in Hertfordshire at the weekend. It’s the Watford Observer, covering on the front, as you might expect, the Play Off Final which saw Crystal Palace pip the Hornets to the Premier League in extra time.

I’ve posted it here because it struck me as being a really clever image – clearly one of the ones which sets the tone for the headline as well. And a nice change from the close up of a weeping fan.

And seeing the local MP paying for a front-page ad to promote a public meeting was a nice thing to see, too.

Singer newspaper sellers! (video)

The Birmingham Mail launched a part-paid, part-free distribution model for its Friday paper a couple of weeks ago.

Around 50,000 copies are given away in the city centre every Friday. To mark the launch of the new edition, the Mail hired actors to act as newspaper sellers – who surprised shoppers, works and others by bursting into song.

I watched the video (on the Mail’s YouTube channel) and it made me smile, so I thought I’d share it on here too

The regional press’s digital publishing challenge: The eight ‘rights’

On Monday, I spoke – with Sarah Hartley – at the Society of Editors conference in Warwickshire on all things digital.

My presentation was looking at the challenge facing regional newsrooms to make sure they were focusing on the right aspects of digital. Simply recreating print online is – it goes without saying – a doomed-to-failure approach, damaging both print and online.

I’ve recreated the presentation below, adding in some commentary to make some of the slides make sense.

In short, the rights are:

1. The right content

2. The right audience

3. The right competition

4. The right community

5. The right approach to mobile

6. The right to cover sport

7. The right cross promotion

8. The right people

Thatcher front pages: How did the 68 regional newspapers treat the death of a prime minister? (gallery)

portsmouthnewsSo where were you when you heard Baroness Thatcher, Britain’s first – and to date, only – female prime minister had died? I was on a conference call and brought proceedings to an abrupt end by shouting out ‘Margaret Thatcher’s died.’ Conference calls being what they are, my line cut out and I had, rather awkwardly, repeat it again.

Who was it who told you? For me, it was Stan Collymore. Really. It was his Tweet popping up on my screen which told me  Baroness Thatcher had died. southwalesechoBeing a journalist, I dug around for another source too. But if ever there was proof was ability of social media to get  breaking news to people in a way radio, TV, news websites and certainly newspapers can only dream of,  it was an event like this.

All of which poses a bit of a dilemma for regional newspapers. With the vast majority now printed overnight, how do you respond to a huge story guaranteed to take up acres of national news print … and which judging by this snapshot of the BBC’s most viewed stories on its website just after 8pm on Monday, was already less popular than a celebrity story:


The vox pop which keeps it real

Most reporters I know have a problem with vox pops: They hate doing them. A lot of news editors and editors I know like them because, done properly, they can add valuable public opinion to a particular issue or story.

However, we’ve all seen bad vox pops in newspapers. The problem comes when you leave the office and start approaching random people to comment on an issue they may have little knowledge of or, worse still, little real interest in. It can become a battle of wills between reporter/photographer and passing member of the public – a little bit like being stopped by Scottish Power or a charity chugger in the street.

When that happens, the purpose of the vox pop is dead. It’s unlikely the vox pop will add much to the newspaper, and the idea that people seeing faces they recognise/ordinary faces in the paper dies a death too. It’s just as likely someone will think ‘why on earth are they commenting on that’ as they are to think ‘isn’t it great the paper’s asking Fred, who knows nothing about this, to talk about it.’

I blogged last year on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle’s new approach to vox pops last year. Instead of sending reporters to prowl the streets, a reporter goes to a particular venue to ask a question about an issue which it is likely the people in that location will care about. It helps create an event in that place because having several people from the same place answering a question will get them talking to other people about it, and that in turn hopefully leads to more papers being sold.

On a purely practical level, if you’ve got agreement to go to a venue – eg a hairdressers – you’re much more likely to get people ready to have their pictures taken, and give interesting answers than you are if you’re stood in a gale on a town centre high street. The comments on the last post suggest such experiences on wet shopping streets are common.

Here’s another brilliant example of the vox pop reinvented: