Doing your smalls


Forgive me while I light the pipe and open a bag of Werther’s Originals, but I remember when a little Pickwickian figure from the Classified department would wander down to the stone at about 11am and hand the BMDs measure to the chief sub.

Back then, you see, we still sold small ads for the same day’s editions and by mid-morning the front office would have been visited by a succession of undertakers keen to register the previous night’s deceased (and take their cut of the fee).

As the ad count was variable and unknown until minutes before first edition deadline, the chief sub would have earlier sent down a few gash PA stories with headings set to various column widths, ready to fill whatever space was left on the page. Aerial pictures and Bygones stuff were also handy fillers on those balmy summer days before the cold nights started seeing off our core readership.

I had imagined that the practice would have died out by now, with overnight editions and the luxurious flexibility of on-screen layout making such idiosyncrasy redundant. Apparently not.

My local weekly for some reason still maintains this strange arrangement, filling the available space above the BMDs with local planning applications – and this absolutely infuriates me. I do not wish to denigrate the newspaper – I would not be without it – but taken as a measure of usefulness to readers living in rural idyll, whether or not a near neighbour is about to attach a carbuncle to their cottage is probably the most important news the paper can bring us; more so, even, than the inevitable uproar about bin collections on the front page.

But because the space available for planning applications is variable, some weeks they will be perfectly legible while on others they will be down to 6pt or worse, or even published incomplete or left out altogether. I know it’s a small thing, but it annoys me that such a valuable service is treated so poorly. It might be ineptitude, it might be laziness, but it’s little things like this that endanger sales.

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