FEATURE 

Alan Geere on the nationals - 6

Each issue, Alan Geere casts an eye over the performance of the national press.

By Alan Geere

Reporting 8/10 – how did they do?

Imagine having to sell a product with no guaranteed customers and different contents in the packet every day. Imagine life as a national newspaper editor and his put-upon chums in circulation and marketing. With home delivery at an all-time low and subscription sales almost non-existent, Britain’s nationals face the daily challenge of how to woo readers, both old and new, to the newsstand. There is, of course, the advantage of a fabulous shop window every day – the front page. Pictures, graphics, headlines and text all combine to lure in the customer to make a purchase.

Nothing sells better than news, unless you count DVDs, free seeds and learn Serbo-Croatian in a day CDs. And Friday August 11 was just one of those days when the national press had a crack at explaining the whys and wherefores of a plot to blow up five Transatlantic planes. So how did they do?

Times

Truly awful. It is difficult to imagine anyone buying a newspaper on the basis of this dreadful front page. Five identical technical drawings of planes, a headline which includes those gripping key words "and the" and no lead story.
Newsstand appeal: 1/10. Compact size wouldn’t even appeal to the down and out underneath the arches crowd at Waterloo.

Daily Mail

Picture the scene: Mr Dacre and the Derry Street minions hopping around looking for a good way to flog more papers on a day when the papers should sell themselves. "I know," says one man (for it will always be a man) "let’s use a picture that sold us lots of papers a few years ago." Yeah, great idea, they all chorus and out comes the iconic picture of the Twin Towers ablaze to be used simply because it can. A question style headline nearly always means the highly-paid top team can’t think of a proper one and there’s no need to worry about crafting the words as there aren’t any. There is, though, a top of the page cross-ref to the Tikkabilla DVD. Who? What?
Newsstand appeal: 5/10. Difficult not to feel cheated. Let’s have the up-to-date news, even if it’s not as dramatic as five-year-old news.

Guardian

Obviously a big story, but not big enough for the bright young things of Farringdon Road to ditch their ‘sex blog’ teaser across the top of the page. (And by the way, do we have to have the barcode so prominent just above the masthead?) In design terms, this is a very horizontal page, with everything running in slabs across the page. The headline is a quote from one of the top cops and the picture just might have come out of the file, as nothing about it said August 10 2006.
Newsstand appeal: 6/10. Too many words. Not enough thought or invention. Disappointing.

Daily Telegraph

Credit them for trying to get an action picture rather than a scene-setter. Take a couple of people in top to toe plastic suits, two policeman (one heavily armed), two wheelie bins, a car with a missing hubcap and unremarkable suburban house surrounded by police tape and you have all the ingredients for … a brave try. The headline includes a gratuitous reference to ‘Middle-class and British’ and the three-handed story does a good job of rounding up events. A discreet digest hides away other news, but the ghastly ad to have your "damp problem solved" doesn’t look very happy.
Newsstand appeal: 7/10. Big headline doesn’t quite do enough to pull this effort into the Premiership. At least they thought about the readers.

Daily Express

Four tightly written headlines give a good taste of the story along with an action picture of police ‘raiding’ a semi-detached suburban house and a picture of a plane in case readers have never seen one. The headline uses a change of colour for added effect, and although the Express is to be applauded for clearing its entire front page, it is strangely lacking in passion and personality.
Newsstand appeal: 6/10. Not much to complain about; not much to like. I must have died and gone to Five Live.

Sun

An inventive interpretation of events giving rise to the ‘Bottle Bombers’ headline and a lurid yellowy orangey bottle of liquid that just happens to be one of the easiest colours to pick out from a distance (think hi-viz jackets). Hastily dreamed up logo ‘The Day Britain Was Grounded’ with horrible stencil typeface that was so unpleasant it never made it anywhere inside. Sanity restored with downpage mugshot of David Beckham. Remember him? He used to sell newspapers.
Newsstand appeal: 7/10. Typical Sun conviction and professionalism; just not sure they’ve got the right angle.

Daily Mirror

The only title examined here to use a face as its dominant image. They have planned and executed a neat angle well, tying in headlines and story around the 21-year-old convert to Islam. Readers like pictures of people and the Mirror’s brave tactic pays off with a powerful front page. Put alongside its traditional rival, the Sun, there is no contest.
Newsstand appeal: 9/10. Bravo for Fleet Street’s former finest; they can still do it when they need to.

Metro

Thousands of cheapskate readers were treated to a paint-by-numbers doom and gloom front page with the big black background treatment. A good headline with the key number – 4,000 – and an okay picture, but probably too many words. Small inside panel refers to related stories.
Newsstand appeal: */10. Okay, so there is no newsstand, just that busy dump bin or the horrible little space between the train seats, so they’re not allowed a score.

Sunday Mid-market

If ever newspaper publishers need a horror story to give them a fright in the night, look no further than the Sunday Express. Even growing up in the sixties, the Sunday Express was what every self-respecting newspaper aspired to be. On the ball, punchy, targeted at its readership and phenomenally successful. Wind on 40 years and a newcomer has grabbed that middle ground and all but sucked the life out of the Sunday Express. The Mail on Sunday is, of course, one of the modern miracles of newspaper publishing. And, when you consider that it now outsells its rival by nearly three to one, there is no denying that Associated got the formula right.

Mail on Sunday

Price: £1.30
Circulation: 2,221,338 (down 1.78%)
Sections: 104 pages with news, such as it is, up to page 43, a 19 page Review section (yes, 19), a miserly two pages of puzzles, a travel section that’s very heavy on ads and just 10 pages of sport that still leads on football although it has its own section, 16 page Football on Sunday inserted into main paper, 24 page Financial Mail on Sunday, including Personal Finance (bills, pensions, stats, zzzz), 76 page You magazine with Fashion and Beauty, Health and Relationships, Living, Food, 68 page Night & Day Live - ‘see it, do it, spend it’, superannuated TV guide.
Freebie: The Stranglers (1977-82) CD. Guess what age the readers are?
Most pointless question: Will your relationship survive the holidays?
Columnists: Katie Nicholl (who?), Peter Hitchens, Suzanne Moore, Charlie Dimmock.
Verdict: Unremittingly gloomy. Headlines read: Standing by my husband nearly cost me our unborn child … Drug trial has given me cancer … Daddy is in the sky … E-mail row lifts the lid on Home Office Hell House … Why did we treat Grandad so badly? If Daily Mail readers thought they might be getting some light relief on a Sunday then think again. The magazines are readable and well put-together contributing to the overall package.

Sunday Express

Price: ‘Still only £1.20’
Circulation: 796,956 (down 10.19%)
Sections: 116 pages with news up to page 47, Royals, celebs, some foreign news, 20 page Review section, Sunday Afternoon, a repository for everything else that hasn’t got a natural home like puzzles, motoring and kids; Travel, property, 16 pages of sport including footy, 92 page S magazine with Fashion, Looks and Life, At Home, TV listings.
Freeebie: Tom Jones CD, which was truly awful. Sounded like Tom Jones singalikes shouting over karaoke tracks.
Most pointless question: Is Dakota’s childhood being destroyed for the sake of an Oscar?
Columnists: Adam Helliker, Kate Garraway, Alan Titchmarsh.
Verdict: Feels like a shoestring operation, but is determined not to go down without a fight. Has some loyal readers out there who are rewarded with some neat touches, not least the best general knowledge crossword in the business.