Strange as it may sound, I’m increasingly thinking that perhaps the most powerful tool in a newspaper’s push into digital is actually the printed front page.
A number of things have led me to this conclusion, but I really got thinking about this while listening to Five Live on Tuesday morning. There was a debate involving David Clegg, political editor of the Daily Record, over whether Westminster’s leaders were going to keep to ‘the vow’ over more devolved powers to Scotland.
The Vow was a headline in the Daily Record on the front page two days before Scotland voted on iindependence after the Record did what journalists should – hold the powerful to account and force them into concrete answers.
There are very few front pages which will go down in history as actually helping make history. There are many historic front pages covering historic events, but very few which have helped shape the future the way the Record’s front page did. And during a vox-pop on Five Live someone mentioned the Record, and presenter Nicky Campbell referred to it again and again.
It’s a front page which will be remembered for a long time. A rare thing. And very valuable online too.
In a cluttered digital world where there are many more competitors fighting to get eye balls to the same story – just ask any regional journalist who sees relatively local breaking news popping up on every national newspaper’s website – the print front page actually helps brands stand out.
But the way the growth of digital news has forced newspaper front pages to change – perhaps more so within the regional press than with the national press – has also made the printed front page more valuable online.
Other than genuine exclusives which are impossible for a rival to credibly lift or copy within minutes – a very rare event – it’s impossible for newspapers to break news. The medium for breaking news is online, and by online, increasingly we mean mobile.
So the front page has become more of a statement, a snap shot in time which tells the reader what the newsroom thinks is the most important story of the day. To move a story on which is already online can be a challenge, but it’s a challenge good newsrooms rise to as they seek to stand out in the newsagents’ shop.
Done right, as the Record with ‘The Vow’ or the Huddersfield Examiner did to capture the excitement of the Tour de France or as the Nottingham Post did to mark the anniversary of World War I, the printed front page is a powerful tool online. Just look at the way Newcastle United fans flock to discuss a Chronicle front page when the front page sets out the brand’s position on Newcastle United.
Many newsrooms publish their front pages on Twitter as soon as the paper goes to press – an unintended consequence of overnight printing slots means that deadlines coincide with peak traffic hours on Twitter. Smarter newsrooms also share them on Facebook too. Retweets abound, comments fly in on both Facebook and Twitter and the result is people talking about the brand.
It’s not uncommon for that front page post to be the most retweeted of the day, or the one which gains the greatest reach on Facebook.
The moment in time which the front page captures is often seen as the weakness of print – it’s too often out of date. But it’s a powerful tool online, doing something it’s very hard to do online: Setting out a position on the day’s news story – even if it’s just to say ‘this is our most important story’.
There are very few digital tools which enable a publisher to draw attention to content in the same way, and with the same instant reaction, as the printed front page. And, of course, there are only a limited number of digital publishers who can pull it off.
For those reasons, I can’t help but think time spent crafting a great front page is also time spent making a brand’s digital presence all the more relevant too.