Can upmarket Argus work?

Evening newspaper editors across the land will be keeping a keen eye on the recent relaunch of The Argus in Brighton.

Anyone whose new look hits upon the holy grail of plus figures in this sector will be judiciously studied by both editorial and newspaper sales teams.

Evenings have gone tabloid, added supplements, taken sport off the back, repackaged and redesigned – but usually without the reward of sustainable extra sales.

And while ad revenues continue to grow (which they have in most cases) and profits further increase on the back of cost-cutting (ditto) every editor still wants to increase circulation.

So what’s new in Brighton? Editor Simon Bradshaw has taken the bull by the horns and decided the newspaper he has edited for the past five years has just been following the same format as many others.

It has catered for its elderly C to DE audience with the usual fare – crime page leads, high story count and plenty of community news.

But Brighton is an affluent, trendy city with a large population churn – and the new-look paper has moved decidedly upmarket and younger.

It’s not ignoring its older readers (in fact, it needs to hang on to most of them) and was clearly not worried about leading page seven of launch day with a 200-plus-point headline about the loansharks “who target the poorest people in Brighton and Hove”.

The new-look Argus, although not ignoring its elderly readers, is targeting a younger audience, reflecting the city’s trendy image

Bradshaw has years of experience in the traditional regional daily tabloid market, with stints on Bradford’s Telegraph & Argus, the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle, and the Daily Record in Glasgow.

Ironically, it was while he was working for Thomson Regional Newspapers’ Stuart Garner and Terry Quinn that the biggest spotlight in the industry was put on editorial, marketing and design.

No newspaper group has been that imaginative or forward-thinking since, but Bradshaw has clearly not forgotten many of the things he picked up during that time.

His new paper has a serif typeface, and the front pages look more like The Journal, Newcastle, and the Western Daily Press than a traditional tabloid evening.

Clearly this type of approach is not a one size fits all. In smaller workingclass cities and towns the upmarket approach would struggle. And where evenings have a midmarket morning in the stable it would make differentiation nigh on impossible.

But the newspaper looks lovely (although I always thought it was one of the better ones in its former life anyway) and certainly seems to reflect the image we have of Brighton.

Newsquest has poured a decent sum of money into the venture so fingers crossed the figures in 12 months time will prove it right.

Newspaper editors wake up to the fact fairly quickly that it is rare to win popularity awards in the newsroom. The best you can generally hope for is to be respected by the majority of the staff and genuinely liked by a fair few.

But there will always be the disenchanted who spend hours of the week chuntering on about a perceived heinous list of grievances.

To be fair to staff it was less than 10 years ago that there were still many editors who could act like monsters – particularly if they had had a drink or were hungover. But, particularly in the regional press, the days of the sadistic megalomaniac are over.

And even when they were doing their worst, it was rare to see the staff come together to take action over it.

So I was intrigued by Press Gazette’s headline on the front page last month, “Yorkshire Post staff vote no confidence in editor Campey”.

What could Rachael Campey possibly have done to elicit such a response in staff? It appears that the editor has made some changes since she took over last year and is wanting to scrap the post of women’s editor.

I scanned the copy for further signs of Campey’s Pol Pot regime but that appears to be it in a nutshell.

A Post insider was quoted as saying: “Campey has created a lot of waves with changes she has made and put some noses out of joint. She had some goodwill left until all this happened with Jill [Armstrong].”

And the Post wonders why it has a reputation in the industry for being pompous.

The current women’s editor is described as “popular and conscientious” and I have no reason to disbelieve that. It will have been a worrying and upsetting time for her.

But it cannot have come as a shock to the journalists that a new editor wants to take a hard look at her large, well-staffed newspaper, which may be an award-winner but has certainly been under-performing in circulation terms.

And if the biggest grievance is the scrapping of the women’s editor post, which could be perceived as less than vital, then perhaps the staff should just get over it.

I use the term “staff”, but factually it was the Yorkshire Post chapel which passed the motion of no confidence in Campey.

And I do wonder how representative that is. My experience of recent NUJ meetings is that about five people could vote on some fairly heavyweight proposals on “behalf of the staff”.

I have never worked for or with Campey but know plenty of people who have. She has never had a reputation for being unnecessarily difficult with her staff and, in fact, headed up a loyal and talented crew in Plymouth.

There were plenty of people in the industry who would have been quite determined to severely shake the Yorkshire Post up given half the chance.

Maybe the staff/NUJ members should be grateful for who they got.

The news that Tim Toulmin has been promoted to director of the Press Complaints Commission will no doubt be criticised by some of the organisation’s detractors.

As Toulmin has worked as deputy director for several years, and was effectively Guy Black’s right-hand man, some may have wanted to see a completely fresh appointment.

Chairman Sir Christopher Meyer appears to have met this potential criticism head on by stating that this was “no status-quo appointment”.

And he is right. Toulmin is well aware of the PCC’s weaknesses, and honest enough to recognise where mistakes have been made in the past.

But he is also one of the few people with the right mix of experience to take on such a tricky job at such a delicate time. 

Alison Hastings is a media consultant and trainer and former editor of the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle. E-mail her at ajh@alisonhastings.demon.co.uk. She’ll be back in four weeks.

Next week: Janice Turner

by Alison Hastings

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