Hold the Front Page: “Three serious daily newspapers in Belfast”

To finish off what O’Neill started on Sunday night with Tele takes a hiding and the discussion around the circulation graphs, former editor Steve Dyson dissected the morning editions of the three local papers over on Hold the Front Page.

With his eyes set on the Wednesday 24 January morning editions of the News Letter, the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph:am, he comments on the “calm” headlines that accompanied one of that week’s main stories, the evacuation of 100 homes in North Belfast due to the discovery of a dissident device, before realising that …

… Belfast is somewhat anaesthetised to terrorist incidents, and so evacuations caused by landmines is not as newsworthy as it would be on the mainland.

News Letter Belfast Telegraph Irish News

He describes the News Letter front page that morning as “left trailing in content and design for me … with what I thought was an unfriendly feel” and was underwhelmed with some of the page one stories and photograph.

The Belfast Telegraph:am looked better and was his “clear winner for page one design with its striking masthead, prominent boost to a £6.95 eating out scheme and clean overall layout”. But he was surprised that their “huge human interest story” and doorstepping of the careworker caught on camera eating the food of an elderly pensioner in her care hadn’t become the main headline.

He found that morning’s Irish News to be more of a conundrum.

Forget the messy page one design for a moment, ignore the jolting boosts, excuse the dark main picture story, even forgive the poor splash headline that failed to tell the story, ‘Church treasurer role for former water boss’.

But relax into the stark sub-heading, ‘Laurence MacKenzie stole from a previous parish in 1982′, and enjoy the exclusive investigation that exposed the top executive’s dishonest past.

The intro was sharp too – neatly summarising the story but pulling you in for more … The seven-par splash and the full 24-par story inside presented a skilled expose with full quotes from all …

However, in terms of value for money, Dyson rated the Irish News lowest for value for money since for 70p, its 64 pages only “contained 77 reports on 28 news and features pages, and 72 reads on 22 pages of sport”. A quantitative surprise given the qualitative reputation of the journalism in the Irish News.

He rated the 68p News Letter second as “a main book of 48 pages, with an extra 24-page Farming Life pull-out … contained 130 reports on 43 news and features pages, and 54 reads on 16 pages of sport”.

But the best value was the Belfast Telegraph:am which for 70p delivered “a main book of 64 pages, with a 36-page, stapled commercial holiday guide dropping out: it contained 136 reports on 34 news and features pages, and 51 stories on 14 pages of sport”.

Despite my critiques, it was pleasurable finding three serious daily newspapers in Belfast, and interesting to note that between them they sell an average of 126,382 a day … Oh for the days when the likes of London, Birmingham and Manchester each boasted three regional dailies.

Steve Dyson used to edit the Birmingham Mail until January 2010 when circumstances changed and he left to run his own media consultancy. He posts regularly on Hold the Front Page, critiquing regional papers he gathers from across the British Isles.

Update – Also worth noting that the receiver was unable to find a buyer for the Sunday Tribune and it is closing permanently.

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