Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Times they are a changed ...

Here's a curate's egg of a page from today's Times. The picture of Rebekah is stunning, sharp, nicely cropped and positioned. She was yesterday's main player and there she is, in full flow, staring out of the page. It will undoubtedly be the first thing the reader sees. The headline above her is spectacular. I have never seen a front page headline (or in fact any headline) with five abbreviations before. Talk about cryptic. You need to know the story to understand it but that's OK. Making AB readers work a little for their headlines isn't really a problem. But it isn't Mrs Brooks and the crossword puzzle clue of a headline that will drive sales today. The paper is working hard to ensure its blurbs will encourage the casual readers to slip a copy into their shopping trolleys. They work too, at least to a point. The Engelbert pictures are intriguing - who could resist the Eurovision oldie as Liam Gallagher or Sid Vicious? But why two headlines? Engelbert as you've never seen him before is enough.The second blurb is just what readers need in these straitened times - money off vouchers for a day out with the kids. But the headline, Inside today, is one of my biggest bugbears. 
Inside: Where else would it be? In our rival's publication? Behind the bacon counter?
Today: When else would it be appearing? Yesterday? Next Thursday? 
The same applies to Free inside on the gardening blurb. The words Inside, Today, Also, Plus and Free are regularly used in blurbs  - and are just a waste of ink and newsprint. The Times blurbs are good on content but too cluttered. Why bury the message?
The celebrity blurbs down the right are effective teasers (notice that they don't need to explain to the readers that these particular stories are inside). I would buy the paper for any of these, especially Caitlin Moran who is essential reading. Finally we come to the splash. Once upon a time newspapers used to sell themselves on their lead story. Now, tucked away at the bottom of the page, this is by far the least interesting element of the page (except for the bar code of course). So there's the Times as it is today -  seven pictures, six teasers, five abbreviations, four-column lead, three-word splash headline, two news-items and one bar code. 
Then there is the back page ... a stunning sky blue piece of artwork, which takes in the titlepiece, and sets the mood for tomorrow's Premier League finale. Bold, and innovative. The story underneath is presumably to add a bit of balance ... but I might have been tempted to wipe out the whole of the back. It's certainly all a far cry from The Thunderer of yesteryear ... and hard to believe that it's only eight years ago that the crusty old broadsheet turned compact.
Thanks as ever to @suttonnick


  1. Hi Peter,

    Always thought 'Free Inside/Today' was a useful way to use to distinguish an offer from those 'token collect' deals - where something it free but only after a bit of effort.

    The word Inside or Today means that if I buy the paper I get the free pullout, or packet of seeds, or voucher for a Magnum, today.

  2. Inside today means not a token collect, not a take voucher to a particular chain to redeem, not a ring up / send off and pay P&P - it does have specific meaning, if only because papers so often complicate promotions.
    And surely you don't really mean to include 'free' in your list of superfluous words? It's been the basis of marketing for the last century, and still incredibly powerful.
    I do take your point overall though. Particularly irks me online when stories are marked as 'latest' or 'breaking', effectively marking everything else as old.

  3. Thanks Dave and James. Good and valid points. Might be an argument for using 'inside' to differentiate between the token collect deals ... but why as the headline? Surely better to tell people what we are offering than where it is. And whereas 'inside' might be OK for a voucher, it isn't needed on the gardening guides, TV guides or other features. Free gift is, of course, one of the classic meaningless modifiers. If it ain't free, it ain't a gift. I don't believe that, if 'Free Inside' was removed, readers would think the Gardening Guide had to be paid for and wasn't in the paper. 'Free tickets to the theatre' is OK. Free property supplement inside is unnecessary. And don't get me started on number of pages. 32-page supplement today! Who cares about the number of pages, tell me about the content not the amount of newsprint I have to take home.