Rallying cry for grassroots

New Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson urged his counterparts to get back to basics and concentrate on giving readers “ultra-local” news.

This
philosophy worked at the Evening Gazette on Teesside, where under Dyson
it was the UK’s only big metropolitan evening paper to put on sales.

Now
he is trying the same approach on Trinity Mirror’s flagship Birmingham
Evening Mail, relaunched two weeks ago as the Birmingham Mail. In
recent years its sale has collapsed at a rate of more than 10 per cent
a year to the current total of 91,900.

He said: “When I first
returned to the Mail the editions were so wide and generic that staff
were regularly turning down requests for reporting events because they
were too local… How many readers were we turning away by saying the
stories were too local, or too repetitive or too boring for us news
junkies?

“There was a lack of space, a lack of editionalised
pages and perhaps a lack of imagination on the part of Evening Mail
staff. Not any more. All those stories are now in there.”

Dyson has re-staffed regional offices to provide seven regional editions covering Birmingham’s various districts.

He
said: “We regional editors have sometimes been too big for our local
paper boots. It’s time we stopped deciding how well the poster fronts
and five page wipe-outs on big stories will look to our professional
eye instead of how good will four ultra-local pages a day changing
seven times, five days a week be to all their readers living their
local lives in our city suburbs.

“Why not lead a local page on a
104- year-old lady’s big day, with archive shots of the street she
lived in 90, 60 and 30 years ago?

“Why not run full Ofsted
reports – and I mean full Ofsted reports – and just who’s applying to
build what size conservatory on your road this week?

Let’s start acting our size and return to our grassroots. Lets get back to basics.”

It
is a philosophy which has worked to good effect at the Barnsley
Chronicle where Robert Cockroft took over as editor 10 years ago and
refocused the title entirely on local news, more stories and more
regionalized editions. Since then circulation has increased from a 1994
low of 36,000 to an average of more than 45,000.

This year’s
biggest circulation driver has been, he said, a supplement called Dandy
Dogs which featured pictures of 900 readers’ pets.

He said:
“Readers know you’re interested in them when you go not only into their
homes, schools and workplaces but their kennels. For weeklies there’s
life in the old dog yet.”

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