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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  • I’ve worked all over the UK and feel that Belfast, and Northern Ireland in general, enjoy better local news coverage than anywhere I’ve been, save for London.

    In particular, political analysis in Northern Ireland is far more in depth, though that is obviously a legacy of the troubles.

  • Neil

    A quantitative surprise given the qualitative reputation of the journalism in the Irish News.

    Quality and quantity are, famously, not comparable. The BT and NL may have the quantity nailed, but then all that requires is to pump out more and more poor quality stuff.

    In fact one might suggest that additional quantity reduces the likelihood of increased quality; conversely increased qaulity will most likely lead to a decrease in quantity.

  • H/T Alan, there are opportunities for redundant hacks on the Coalisland Post [twitter]

  • “Three serious daily newspapers”

    The first port of call for many ‘out of Belfast’ folks are the obituary columns; no doubt such interest helps to sort of bump up the circulation figures. I met a man one a few years ago coming out of a newsagents with a News Letter in his hand. The proprietor whispered to me, “He doesn’t usually buy a paper but his decease is listed in the death’s column”; it seems a death threat had slipped through editorial scrutiny.

  • Every now and then I buy another paper to get another perspective. I always return to the Irish News. Easily the best of the three local papers for all its faults.

    Yes the front page is often skew whiff with an oversized picture (and undersized caption) often being linked wrongly by the readers to the main headline from a distance. My son reckons they do it on purpose as the unintended juxtaposition is often very funny. And yes sometimes they forget to change the day and date on some of the pages. And yes page three is often surrendered to absolute trivia. (Not forgetting the on line edition not being available until after nine and the archives never.)

    But for columnists, pictures,sport, in depths it is excellent.

    The only seriously weak point are the editorials. The IN could speak with a better developed more thoughtful and reflective voice and at greater length.

  • Cynic2

    The problem is he only compared them with each other.

    An analogy. McDonalds sells say 4 different kinds of burgers. They are different sizes and shapes and prices. But they all taste like cardboard. If you compare within them you can find a ‘best’ but its still crap.

    For me, as a Unionist(!), the only local paper I would buy for content is the Irish News

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Iam old enough to remember an excellent comedy called “Never Mind the Quality…Feel the Width”. And at least part of Mr Dysons analysis brought it to mind.
    Leaving aside the front page for the moment, Im not convinced that value for money in a newspaper can be measured by price per page (even partly) as a lot depends on what you actually WANT to read.
    For example if the Irish Times sells 100,000 copies I cant think that more than 10,000 of their Property Guides get read.
    Same with the Belfast Telegraphs Holiday Guide. Even I tend to throw the Friday supplement on “music, movies” from the Guardian unread into the nearest bin.

    On the Front Pages, theres interesting clues. Belfast Telegraphs could have been straight from the Daily Mail.
    Inside…..Hurling Camogie and Brian Feeney on the Southern Election in the Irish News and the UDR and our boys in Afghanistan in the News Letter.
    The BT opts out of the Tribalism with a cheap meal.
    Arguably the Irish News had the best story……a new twist on Water.
    But even the pics are in their own way….”tribal” (not necessarily a bad thing). Im guessing that the Rugby player in the NL pic is Paddy Wallace and Im guessing that the “Belfast man nominated for Oscar” is perhaps from the Falls Road.
    Give the people what they want. Which in no way undermines their achievements (a fund raising event and nomination for Oscar) but also taps into community pride…..two communities of course.
    Mr Dyson is too dismissive of the sports coverage. Theres no reason why people should not buy papers primarily for sport…….a bowler, hockey player or cricketer might well buy the NL and a GAA fan will certainly buy the IN. Indeed as a fan myself, I even find that the coverage of local clubs is much too detailed but to the GAA enthusiast there is nothing better than reading whats going on in deepest Derry and darkest Donegal.
    If it was once only possible to get yourself into the Irish News via the death notices, this is no longer the case as it goes down the route of getting proud grannies to buy the paper just for the story about the local village under 10s.

  • Three? By comparison to the vast London market which has <1 serious newspaper, that's quite good going.

  • Mr Dyson is too dismissive of the sports coverage.

    With the exception of the Irish News and its many pages of GAA, the bulk of sports coverage is likely to be of English Premier League football, much of it not even original to the paper. Now I like the EPL as much as anyone, but I don’t want to go to a local newspaper for saturation coverage, nor do I want to read the same report in more than one paper. I’ll read about Liverpool in the national press and expect local coverage in a regional title.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Well of course the NL and IN are as likely to highlight the Scottish Premier than the Englis Premier….not to mention Norn Iron or Ireland.
    The problem with your analysis Chekov is that if our local papers did not cover premiership football, the punters might be more inclined to buy the Sun or the Mirror.
    Although if I was a Liverpool fan I wouldnt want to read a newspaper at all 😉

  • Mark


    I here you …lol

  • qwerty12345

    Since when was the Newsletter a serious newspaper?

  • FJH – by no means should they not cover it. I’d just like to see the balance redressed so that local sport is prioritised. Especially on the back page splash.

  • jojo

    This last few years the Tele’s been rubbish despite its size. Too much of a ‘viewspaper’ for my liking, much less interesting local content than there used to be and its best reporters have gone so you can’t expect anything else. It totally lacks direction and has far too much Independent content. I read the Independent and Irish Independent and I got fed up of reading so many of their stories in the Tele.

  • jojo

    On the debate of sports coverage, I would never buy a NI paper to read about premiership football etc. I read what I want to read about sport online. And let’s face it a lot of people buy red tops and aren’t going to wait for the afternoon’s Tele to read the same stuff. As for the NL and IN their sport isn’t inspiring either.

  • H/T Alan

    Have any of the Big Three reported on the SAVER/NAVER fraud allegations?

    Surely this story, which was reported in the Mirror on August 2 2010, raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the Community Relations Council’s verification process and the merits of the Review of Victims Funding report, a report published in March 2010.

    Is it possible that the BBC has touched on the tip of quite a large iceberg so far as the public funding of voluntary organisations is concerned?

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    Usually buy the Irish News daily but got a copy of the Newsletter one day last week for a change.

    Content seemed to be of the same standard (without the IN’s overt bigotry) but the Newsletter layout seemed very dated compared to the Irish News.

    Could do with a wee sprucing up.