And it was all going so well. 11 days, 11 numerically-themed pieces which look at different aspects of the regional and local press. And then I get to day 12 – it should be the easiest of the lot, 12 great front pages.
I didn’t want to do just 12 front pages I liked – I’d probably be biased towards titles I work with, which maybe I am in the list below anyway – because that would too subjective. Instead, I wanted to do 12 front pages which showed the regional Press off at its best, but which also told stories about the way the regional Press is going, or where it’s come from.
And so I end up with 20 (more if you include the others I’ve referenced here too). That’s the beauty of grammar I guess – I’ve just moved the colon in the headline a bit so it’s still correct – it is the 12th post, it’s just far more than 12 front pages.
I’ll try and explain the whole thinking of the 12 days of local Pressmasness tomorrow.
The front page that never was
I blogged the other day about newspapers taking a stand against football clubs, and the Newcastle Chronicle has been leading the way there. When the news emerged that Joe Kinnear was back at the club, the collective heart of the Toon Army sank.
This front page is one which followers of the Chronicle on Twitter, and of editor Darren Thwaites, will have seen – but no-one who bought the paper will have done.
Darren shared two front pages and opened up a discussion on Twitter. In the end he went for the one shown on the right here. Both are great, and the one actually used probably works better as a newspaper front page. But as ways of using the front page to put down a marker for a newspaper’s position, which has a knock on impact online, I think the idea of showing the options to readers is a brilliant one.
The front page you’d never expect to see
In June, the Northern Echo was among pretty much all of the regional and local newspapers in the North East to join forces to create the ‘Nevolution’ campaign which set out to make Government listen to the needs of the region. One of the big aims of the campaign is to give the region more say over how money relating to it is spent and, better still, get full control over more aspects of public life.
It’s an ambition campaign, not least because the current coalition continues to appear confused over how much power it wants to devolve, but it quickly won the support of deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. I think it’s a safe bet former editors of the Northern Echo couldn’t have imagined a day when the mastheads of many of their rivals adorned the Northern Echo’s front page. And maybe that’s the point – are other newspapers really any newspaper’s main competitor any more?
A very important campaign
For me, this is perhaps the campaign of the year, and proof of the importance of the regional Press. It’s 40 years this year since the Birmingham Pub Bombings. Everyone knows the story of the Birmingham Six, a phrase which is up there with Guildford Four in terms of miscarriages of justice. But what of the 21 who died that dreadful night in Birmingham? The Justice4The21 campaign is controversial, is one of those campaigns the authorities would rather go away, but is so very important. It’s great the Birmingham Mail is behind it.
The Western Mail has a reputation for brilliant front page designs. Some of the attention-grabbing concept designs it did during the 6 Nations in 2012 even ended up on T-shirts, they were so popular. This is my favourite of 2013, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Britain’s worst mining disaster. Striking yet poignant.
Getting local pride right
Local anger at perceived slur is a common enough theme in the regional press, and sometimes it makes us look a little too parochial. I remember once, when on the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, some celebrity had said something dismissive of Blackburn, and we assumed we could ring round the local politicians and get a ‘anger at’ story. We actually got a better story – the lead of the Tories decided now was the time to announce Blackburn was actually a grotty mill town. Great story – made better by the number of people who agreed with him.
But there are occasions when the slur is too great, or too dangerous, to be ignored. The Journal in Newcastle is a proud champion of the North East, and when George Osborne’s father-in-law announced the north was desolate and therefore ripe for fracking, it knew it’s job was to send a powerful message back.
Some campaigns are easy to sell to readers. Others are equally as important but require a leap of faith to clear out the front page and think ‘This might give us a sales hit but it’s worth it.’ For papers which seek to cover the tabloid ‘evening’ end of the market while at the same time fighting, credibly, for business and community interests, it can be a tough call.
I really liked what the Hull Daily Mail did here. I always thought Hull was quite well connected by train – how many places have a train company with their name in it? But this is a brilliant example of a well thought out campaign which makes a potentially dry issue very relevant to readers.
Standing by readers
The death of Margaret Thatcher was reflected in different way by different regional papers, an indication of the different impact she had on various parts of the country. Several regional newspapers delivered very powerful front pages, but this was one which stood out for me – a superb montage, a powerful message in the headline and eight pages inside on how Thatcher would be remembered in Sheffield.
The Express and Star in Wolverhampton gets a lot of stick for its traditional design and layout, although it has undergone a redesign which made clear it was reducing story count to make the most of individual stories. This front page combines dramatic images but also many entry points for readers, without impacting on the drama of the main story. But the reason I include this front page is because it’s a game-changer in a more subtle way – the source of the apocolypse image in the middle. It was supplied by West Midlands Fire and Rescue – effectively UGC if you like. Expect more of that in the weeks and months to follow.
A picture is worth…
I blogged yesterday about the power of CCTV in the regional press – both in print and online, thanks to video these days. Here’s my CCTV still of the year, which dominated the MEN on November 21. It’s a shot of the man who had just knocked the injured man over, before he drove off again.
Storms lend themselves to great picture-led front pages and, thanks to a 2013 which was heavy on the weather, we’ve had plenty of practice at making the most of them, especially online.
The one here on the right from the Gloucester Citizen from back in January was one of the most dramatic, but the best storm-related one for me was the one above, from the Yorkshire Evening Post.
It broke away from the tradition of dominating the front page with one storm related image and instead went with a selection of images, under the headline ‘Windy City.’ To me, if I was trying to sell papers, I’d go with the design which allowed me to say to as many people as possible ‘We know what’s been happening near to you.’
Then there was this one from the Daily Echo in Southampton, with my favourite bad weather headline of the year.
Royal babies arriving late at night
The birth of Prince George – or, rather, the announcement, fell at the worst possible time for regional newspapers, most of which publish overnight now. Worst possible time, that is, if you consider the need to be on top of the latest national news essential for the regional press these days. I’d argue not, with the challenge being to make the newspaper as up to date as possible with local news.
Given the timing, the presence of the news of the new baby was somewhat limited on front pages. Some didn’t have it at all – deadlines, I guess – while others chose not to give the news the whole front page. After all, there are times when it makes sense to admit that you can’t compete with the carefully-planned, expensive coverage the nationals had ready to go.
But when you’ve got a great local line and picture to go with a national story, you get the best of both worlds. And that’s what happened in Blackpool, when the Tower went blue to announce a boy. As symbolic announcements go, I think it knocks spots of the white smoke at the Vatican!
Cleverest front page
This is a very clever front page from the North West Evening Mail in Barrow. If faces sell papers, this one deserved to be a record-breaker: 1,200 faces used to create a powerful montage to launch a campaign to save maternity services in Barrow – a big issue which has been making regional headlines in the north west all year.
This is perhaps my favourite story of the year, from the Liverpool Echo. A chap turned up at Liverpool’s most imposing wedding venue – the stunning St George’s Hall in the city centre – ready for the wedding he had booked. Only it turns out he hadn’t completed all the forms, and with his wife-to-be due soon, he did the only thing any rational man would in such circumstance … he put out a bomb threat on the building.
A couple of other things strike me about this front page, which is type of the Echo’s design. The first is that the packed, rectangular or square blurbs create a front page which could easily be replicated as an interactive Tablet experience – not necessarily as a page-turner, but as a full web-native app similar to the one created by the Guardian, or even Flipboard.
The second is that while the splash headline won’t win any prizes for SEO, it probably works very well as a social headline, along the lines of: Bride and Boom! How not to ensure you’re wedding day makes the front page.’ Does the importance of social for mobile sites mean a new dawn for the punny headline?
A bold statement
I was with Alun Thorne, the editor the Coventry Telegraph, when he was coming up with this front page. It was a bold decision, but to my mind, the right one, as it put the paper on the side of the Coventry City fans, who must be among the worst-treated fans in the country.
The message is clear, but at the same time, is measured, and is the product of frustration at the lack of progress between the warring parties at Coventry City, who now play their homes games in Northampton.
While the paper has continued to take a hard line with the club’s owners, the paper has continued to cover Coventry City in the sort of depth which comes from being trusted by the playing staff and manager to call things straight, a testament to the paper’s CCFC reporter, Andy Turner.
New Year’s Honours
I’m cheating a bit here because this front page is from December 29, 2012, but it’s a New Year Honours front page, so it kind of counts (if you have your fingers crossed!). I thought this front page from the Wigan Evening Post beautifully blended a local celebrity, a great headline and an archive picture to create a message which stood out among the nationals, many of which were also focusing on Sir Wiggo.
A headline which stops you in your tracks
This is a story which went around the world very quickly after the Birmingham Mail broke it back in May: The tragic story of parents who believed their daughter was left to die in India because doctors felt her organs were more valuable to them. Breathtaking.
The proof the good local newspapers can do
I mentioned this one in my food bank post – the Norwich Evening News’ food bank appeal which collected twice as much food as it set out to do thank to generous readers supporting it in their droves. The Christmas appeal is a traditional part of many a newspaper’s year, and I think this one is proof that it’s a vital tradition at that.
A big leap
This is the Bourne Local, one of the smallest newspapers, in terms of circulation, in the country. So what’s it doing in here, with a front page which is pretty typical? Check out the blurb on the right. Almost half of the front page is given over to celebrating the volume of user generated content inside. Johnston Press hopes that 75% of the paper will be UGC in the future.
The rules are simply – if you write it, the odds are they will print it. I saw the first week of this brave new world, and it was actually very good. Traditionalists will throw their arms up in horror at the fact that stuff we wouldn’t see as news in the old world is now getting lots of space, and that people are writing in a way which doesn’t conform to journalism school rules. But it’s still very good.
I believe UGC, curated correctly, actually makes newspapers and their websites more relevant to local communities. A colleague of mine, Jo Kelly, has been leading huge projects around UGC at the titles we work with, breathing a new life into some, and having a huge impact on others. It might be a hard truth for journalists, but there’s no doubt that inviting the audience to get involved results in a wider range of content which better reflects the lives of readers.
This probably doesn’t count…
Like the front page I began this list with, this isn’t a front page which ever made it on to the presses. Unlike the first one, it was never meant to, either. The disappearance – and tragic subsequent death of – Adam Pickup during a night out in Manchester city centre was a huge story over Christmas in Manchester. The MEN’s poster was downloaded hundreds of times. For me, this is what regional newspapers are all about: using creativity to help parts of the community when it matters.
The Liverpool Post closed in late December. The commentators out there have had their say on way, and some like to punt on where will be next. For me, as someone who is proud to have worked on the Post when it was a daily, its closure was a very sad day. Editor Mark Thomas – a friend – co-ordinated a fitting final edition, which looked back on where the Post had come from, but which also examined why it was closing. I’d urge anyone with an interest in the regional press to read Mark Thomas’s thoughts here.