Why there should be much more to papers than just the news

With Andrew Neil saying that newspapers need to become more like magazines, Robyn Bechelet suggests what the dailies can learn

Felt homesick recently? I did, achingly so. Working in the office,
getting ready to vote on election day. Me, an ex-daily newspaper hack
putting together monthly magazines.

“I can’t believe I’m not in a newsroom,” I said. Eyes
momentarily rolled around the room before the laughing colleagues got
back into organising the hell’s jigsaw of a magazine flatplan.

Just
then, I learned another thing about myself, and what it means to have a
heart in newspapers and to have got ahead in magazines. What have I
really learned?

Andrew Neil (pictured above at the PPA
conference) is right, of course – the outflow of 24-hour TV and
internet world news is a threat to newspapers.

He said newspapers
will have to become more like magazines. Well what can you learn? We
all have a different view – me with nose pressed to the glass of the
local goldfish bowl, he with a great white’s eye, and the freedom to
fish where he likes for circulation.

Raw Japanese Su Doku was fresh five minutes ago, I hear.

Buy
a daily newspaper, get busy, and you might worry that you never finish
it – a waste of money and the earth’s resources. There needs to be
something in that paper that makes you keep looking at it, and that
might be the job ads rather than the splash.

But wait. A weekend
newspaper is a treat, well designed, visually appealing in a graphic
age. Buy a beautiful magazine or a weekend paper and it’s a gift to
yourself.

Because you are going to give your hard-earned ‘me’
time to it. This means you are not going to be doing something else,
like a chore. Reading may be a chore to some. So, entertain. Or say
something important that they haven’t heard before somewhere else.
‘Local’

has power in this respect.

A magazine doesn’t
normally shout though. If it is a regional magazine, like Archant
Life’s, it will help you navigate your world, ease your passage through
a constantly changing current of daily affairs, which it deftly puts on
hold for a while.

It tells you what’s on, shows you an ad for a
new shopping development where you might spend your money, reviews a
restaurant where you might see people you know because they read the
article too. It connects. It presents your county at its finest for
ABC1 readers who enjoy the finer things in life.

Time poor,
that’s most of us, with heads filled full of daily news chatter, or
racket, if, like me, you start the day with the Today Programme. You
can shut all that up with a monthly magazine.

As a journalist I
feel sharpened by my hard-news background and have a strong sense of
belonging to a good and lasting place with a broad range of
opportunities. At Archant you can travel between newspapers and
magazines and never look back, whichever turn you take.

On a
newspaper I learned the discipline of saying it in 60 words. The legal
nous to know what to check (is that village shop really closed?). The
value of contacts, especially when you are on deadline and you need a
name. You put in all those stolen-cycle nibs, because one day, one day,
that big story will come and you will want to beat the nationals before
they even touch the ground.

Being a news editor is the best job
in the world. A splash in the morning is sometimes gone by tea-time.
The space still has to be filled. Every second is a chance to improve.

On
magazines we are just as busy. But as the man said, there’s a different
rhythm. Our busy time is not covering what happened, it is planning
what we are going to make happen. And that is the skill that the best
newspaper feature teams excel in.

If newsdesk is plate spinning, then magazine editing is a high-wire act.

Same processes, different time-scale.

You’ll
make decisions to send several things back for improvements, perhaps a
more relevant picture and, all the while, your 250 pages are all
funnelling to one point. Time bombs tick across a minefield of copy and
you have to detect them, and fast. Too late and you can’t respond
without being late. Late means losing sales. In any world.

We don’t have subs, we read it all ourselves before and after it goes on the page. Does that scare you? Don’t let it.

I
am defending the faith with freelance help. Having spent many a winter
night subbing on the ‘daily’ after a day on a magazine (I really do
need to get out more) to learn the craft – I do appreciate it and I am
a warm human being.

Circulation figures once a month instead of daily or weekly. Only 12 times a year to demonstrate your difference.

That’s the bottom line. And in magazines it’s a healthy-looking one.

We all connect with readers’ lives. In my case, where and how they are lived.

And our readers are people whose heads are full of news already. They’ve been told it before a hundred times.

So if newspapers need to learn something from magazines, perhaps it’s that there’s so much more to it than news.

Is
your publication making your readers sit down and open their minds
because you have new ideas? Is it giving them a reward – which could be
as simple as a laugh, or the ‘in’ on a new trend? Do you speak in the
voice they’d rather hear it from? Do you say what you mean using
show-stopping visuals like no one else? Because that’s what the best
magazines do.

Robyn Bechelet is group editor of three county magazines at Archant Life East

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