SO, THIS MORNING, the Bridport News and the View From Bridport began their Wednesday wrestling bout.
In the blue corner, the BN – 40p, published by Newsquest (owned by the giant American corporation Gannett), 64 pages (including 10 of the crucial property pages), physically smaller than the VF.
In the red corner, the VF, published by Lyme Media & Events Ltd (owned by a former St Albans publisher, who also owns the Mariners Hotel in Lyme Regis), 64 pages (including 10 of the crucial property pages), bigger pages than the BN.
First pages, first impressions
The BN has a new battlecry – YOUR TOWN, YOUR PAPER. Good and punchy, but what if you live in a village? Is the BN really going to focus just on Bridport? What about Beaminster? Or does it think that people will read “your town” as covering that?
BN Page 1: Big capitalised white-on-black negative headline: “WHAT A WASTE – Fury over £300,000 cost of finding new transfer site for rubbish”. Nice use of red to pick out the £300,000.
VF Page 1: Smaller lower-case “Leisure centre celebrates windfall”. This is about Bridport’s leisure centre getting a lottery grant of £315,000.
Odd how the two sums of money are so close, in this classic bad news / good news split (or hard news and soft news, depending on which terms you prefer).
At this stage, both papers are definitely looking like contenders. But which lead will appeal more to most local people in terms of their everyday lives? You must decide for yourself, but I’d be inclined to say the latter…
However, there is also another way of looking at things – old news versus new news – and as my first correspondent has leapt in to say:
“The lottery award was on page 2 of the BN last week. The VF story is in more detail but the news is over a week old.
“VF still has an appalling masthead- far too busy, badly designed and looks cheap. It doesn’t need the bottom strap line announcing it to be Bridport’s very own community newspaper, it’s meaningless and takes up a cm of space at the bottom.
“First round to the BN.”
Another email describes the BN’s lead story as “a move away from the sub-Jeremy Kyle style fodder we’ve been getting of late”.
But continues: “The Your Town, Your Paper thing is meaningless. What does it mean? If it was people’s paper they would already know. It’s like the 1980s, Maxwell’s Mirror, Forward with the people – and we know what happened to him.
“Where do the BN’s profits go? Not to the Bridport paper, not to Dorset, not even the UK….
“The VF still needs to tidy up its page 2. They have the telephone number of its offices in no less than three places. And do we really need to have the number of the designers?
“It’s too featuresy – the 60 second interview should be moved further back.”
And another – I ought to be charging Newsquest and Lyme Media for running this impromptu focus group. But do they want to hear what’s said, let alone pay me? (That’s a rhetorical question, not a hopeful plea, by the way).
“Interesting, the Bridport News’s splash is 1,300+ words long. Much longer than the previous few weeks. But clearly the investigating has been done by NOWTS not Bridport News staffers.
“Page 2 BN is ok, the stories are very long (round 2 to BN)
“Page 3 BN is a good story! But is in all the rivals and was covered by the VF, clearly a press release. Good headline though.
“Interesting 4/5 BN, rather like BN was a while back.
“Last week the page 6 BN story would have been the splash – have advertisers complained?
“BN’s page 7 is the VF’s page 3.
“Nice pic on page 8 of BN.
“The VF is still running pancake stories and far too much “charridee stuff” and as for the Axminster-based Summer Holiday it makes no sense for a so-called hyperlocal paper.
“The VF takes no account of design… the BN has a very good design sub and that saves the paper.
“Overall, the BN has it, although this may be because people still send it press releases and the View From needs to work harder on design.
“However, the VF has pushed its Ents coverage and it does look better than the BN’s. If the VF’s new owner cares about news the VF could be a real contender.
“There are still no words on the front of the BN indicating it’s stuck with the tabloid style of the Dorset Echo – which may be fine in Weymouth but not really in Bridport.
“Design aside, the big question is: Is there enough unique content to make the BN worth the 40p cost?
“The answer will be worth noting when the next circulation figures come out.”
Some more of my own thoughts, quickly.
I rather like the bustling feel of the VF’s masthead, although it is suffering by showing Woolworths still open. It closed in Bridport – what – a year ago?
The VF’s Entertainments section is better than the BN’s and should provide a strong basis for the VF’s new Friday online newspaper, the Dorset Weekender, starting in March. More could have been done with the Summer Holiday piece to make, for example, the links across West Dorset clearer.
The interview on page 2 of the VF is always a good read, and you can make a case for it staying where it is, because it suggests that this is a paper about local people. The whole page devoted to a personal profile further into the paper reinforces this.
The story about the comedian Reginald D. Hunter not showing up at the Electric Palace because he was on was the BBC’s new programme The Bubble (VF, p3: BN, p7) is an indication of how so-called newspapers – both the BN and the VF – are being left behind. You could find out about this on Twitter days ago.
There is indeed a lovely pic on p8 of the BN, by a member of the public (Shane Pym, former landlord of the Bottle Inn in Marshwood, and before that, if memory serves, once a lorry driver in Rwanda).
The pictures in We’re In The News in the BN (pages 26-27) are all taken by professional photographer Graham Hunt. What happened to the idea of people sending their own in? Have people given up already, or is it just a result of the publication day shifting to a Wednesday?
Expanding the Looking Back section in the BN is a good idea, and there’s a great selection of photos this week courtesy of local collector Keith Alner. Running this kind of feature should allow more time for the BN’s staff to do more original reporting.
That would be good – because what would really make a difference, in all the 128 pages of the BN and VF combined, is more original reporting, more life, more sparkle, not just from the towns, but from the villages too.
Is that too much to ask for these days?
My favourite thing
I’ve spent too long today looking at, and thinking about, local newspapers. I’ve alternated between feelings of admiration for the often resourceful ways they keep on going (genuinely respectful feelings in the case of the VF) and fury – as the BN would doubtless have it – at the pitiful crumminess of some of their content. I can’t bring myself to write about the BN page 9 lead: man – on Portland – complains about postal surcharge…
So I’ll end this almost-certainly-never-to-be-repeated exercise with my favourite thing in this week’s BN; the last line of the letter by Geoff Yaxley, of Silver Street, Lyme Regis, about the working party being set up in Lyme Regis to discuss the future of the Three Cups Hotel. Mr Yaxley writes about hundreds of people voting for the compulsory purchase of the Three Cups, then concludes:
“I am the only person who views this new working party with scepticism.”
Good on you mate!