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:
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.
To me, one of the greatest assets of the regional press is its history, but it is also one of its biggest constraints, and it’s a constraint we have seen online too, as brands have either sought to recreate what they do in print online, or have sought to create a false differentiation between print and online which has more to do with protecting print sales than it does creating a loyal digital audience. Or, indeed, assuming people will pay for content online just because they do in print, but I’ll save that one for another day!
According to Holdthefrontpage, the digest page was introduced when the paper switched to tabloid – sorry, compact – size a few years ago. For me, it’s proof that no tradition should be too sacred to be challenged in the regional press.
The back page of the Westmorland Gazette surely interests far more people with the mix of things taking place, roadworks, local bargains and the odd puzzle than it would carrying details of the latest goings on at Kendal Town FC, a team attracting crowds of 126, despite one of the best nicknames in football – the Mintcakes.
I know of many journalists on newspapers who, as they do more and more online, are somewhat shocked to realise how little interest – in terms of pure page views and unique visitors – there can be in the thing we’ve often seen as essential. That changes the way we think about content online, so why not change how it looks in print, too?
Cynics will argue the rise in full-page, back-page adverts which command a premium mean that sport could be losing its place on the back page. For me, the Westmorland Gazette is proof that in some cases, there’s a much better alternative to sport for the back page anyway.