It's Dyson's baby, so let him get on with it

THE BIRMINGHAM MAIL’S relaunch has understandably been getting much coverage in the past few weeks.

New editor and local lad Steve Dyson has been wowing national media commentators with his no-nonsense style.

Who
can argue with the strategy of going back to heavy editionising in such
a sprawling conurbation (certainly not the neighbours in Wolverhampton,
who have always editionised like mad).

And if Dyson succeeds, as
he has suggested, in getting the management to leave him be until the
afternoon, he will have many editors insisting they follow suit.

He
is right, of course, that a big paper such as the Mail, with its
background of dodgy sales figures and accelerated decline, needs an
editor to concentrate wholly on it.

It can’t have helped his
predecessor, Roger Borrell, who was never looking for a bigger kingdom,
to have been given extra responsibilities as editor-in-chief for the
Midlands.

But with Dyson, who is a consummate news man, at the
helm being helped out by local editorial director Mark Dickinson and
proper funding and support by Trinity Mirror, the Mail has never been
in a better position to get it right.

As with all publicity, it’s
famine or feast and it was the positive results of a promotion carried
out by the Mail’s sister morning title, the Birmingham Post, which
caught my eye.

Here the Post offered free fertility treatment to
readers – and one of the lucky four couples have announced they are
expecting twins.

I should imagine that never has a positive
pregnancy test result been so welcomed in a newsroom. Usually they are
met with despair by department heads worried about how they will fill
their pages with yet another bloody member of staff going off on
maternity leave.

The fact that Post editor Fiona Alexander is
herself on said leave presumably means that the newspaper is more in
touch with its feminine side in this regard.

The Post did get criticised for its unusual promotion when it was launched, and was accused of only doing it to sell newspapers.

Well, that is the usual aim of any promotion, but sometimes awareness campaigns such as these rise above that.

It’s
as important for a newspaper to show readers that it is in touch with
their lives and issues that can affect them or people they know – and
no one can say that fertility does not fall into that category for
couples in that all-important age demographic.

There has been
recent controversy over promotions offering extreme body make-overs,
plastic surgery and boob jobs to young women by the very magazines that
have helped make them feel bad about their body image in the first
place.

But that is not the same as putting your money where your
mouth is over fertility treatment when it is part of an indepth
campaign to ensure readers get what they are entitled to from their
primary care health trusts.

The media are criticised for being
far too reliant on surveys to fill their column inches and airwaves.
And many of them are a waste of space dreamed up by PR agencies to
promote their latest client. But you can’t deny that there are some
juicy surveys that lend themselves to a great light page lead.

One such example was the poll on the top British cinematic settings.

For
those who missed it, the top five were Local Hero (Scotland), The Full
Monty (Sheffield), Trainspotting (Edinburgh and Glasgow), The Railway
Children (Yorkshire) and An American Werewolf in London (London and
Windsor).

When that arrives on a newsdesk, it’s manna from heaven
– cue lovely scenic stills pictures from the films with a synopsis of
each one’s general plot. It works from a national newspaper
perspective, but also regionally, particularly if your area is
mentioned.

And if it’s not, you can remind readers of the flicks filmed on your patch anyway.

The
interesting thing about this particular poll was that it was conducted
among the regional press’s film writers, which is probably why only one
of the top five was London-orientated.

The Film Distributors’
Association, which carried out the survey, was quick to point out that
75 per cent of all visits to the cinema take place outside London – and
those people seem to relish an injection of British scenery.

It’s great that this organisation recognises the power of the regional press in getting bums on seats.

Local
papers will give acres of space to the filming of scenes on their patch
– and once it’s released, regional pride kicks in and they will,
usually successfully, encourage readers to watch the end result.

I’ve
not seen any figures, but I am sure any picture filmed in a region will
have a disproportionate number of local people watching it, mainly on
the back of good local publicity.

Of course it works both ways.
Take Goal!, the football film released recently which focuses heavily
on Tyneside and Newcastle United.

This shows such stunning
scenery of city and coast that those employed to promote the region can
practically take a sabbatical (apart from the scene when one of the
footballers wakes up after a three-in-a-bed session in a bad part of
town only to discover his sports car jacked up on bricks).

But
this poll should also be food for thought for newspaper management, who
might see a film writer’s job (usually combined with other feature desk
duties) as an extravagance.

Yes, you can get film reviews and
listings from a centralised source, but this is one of the diminishing
reasons to buy a local paper rather than drift off to the internet, so
mess about with it at your peril.

Alison Hastings, a former editor of the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle, is now a consultant

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