A review of the relaunched titles

Welcome Home! Front page covers of the first New Charter Housing Trust published Reporter and Chronicle newspapers.

The last time I was most excited about the relaunch of a printed publication was in 1992, when my favourite Commodore 64 magazine Zzap! 64 was about to be renamed Commodore Force. I was most excited about the fact it meant two cover mounted tapes and the obligatory Oliver Frey designed cover darkening Dentons’ shelves. As a paperboy, I never got to deliver any of the things, but I did on odd occasions, deliver the odd Stalybridge and Dukinfield Reporter. As the Tameside Reporter, my poetical endeavours have been detailed in 2003 and 2008. I have, since birth, had some part of my life affected in a nice way by the Reporter Group’s titles. Somewhere in the vaults of Chez Vall, is a Polaroid picture of me being sat by a December 1979 issue (in glorious broadsheet form!).

Almost a fortnight ago, I was happy to find out about the Reporter’s return to Tameside newsstands, and in future months, homes, albeit in freesheet form. This Thursday just gone, I tried to go to my nearest newsagent to see if he had any copies in: none in, probably not yet ordered. Luckily for me, there was a copy of the Glossop Chronicle in Chez Vall (my Dad went to Glossop that day). On Friday, along with my usual copy of the Oldham Evening Chronicle, I was happy to find the new Tameside Reporter on the newsstands at Hydes in Tommyfield Market, Oldham. Then I read it on an 83 bound for Manchester: Stalybridge Celtic on the back page; change of masthead; and a cleaner layout. Apart from the traffic on Oldham Way aboard the 83, normal service had resumed.

1. Content:

i. Front Page:

Both titles carry the Welcome Back! headline concerning the titles’ relaunch, though each article is slightly modified for Tameside and Glossop perspectives. These are dominated by a photograph of a mobile advertising truck proclaiming the return of either the Glossop Chronicle or the Tameside Reporter.

ii. News:

Both titles aim to carry on as before with the same mix of family orientated stories and news affecting each locality. In the last edition of the Tameside Reporter [13 September 2012], more local news targeted to each constituent of the title warranted a page of its own. This is still the case, though better integrated with the rest of the ‘paper. Each town has a page, thus meaning Dukinfield gets its own local page instead of sharing with Stalybridge, unlike previous editions.

Shortly after the last Reporter went to press, came the tragic deaths of PCs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone. As a mark of respect, one page includes messages of condolence from its readers.

iii. Letters:

Given the fact this was the first new edition in the space of five weeks, most letters were congratulating the return of the Reporter and Chronicle newspapers. As of before, the usual letters holding High Peak and Tameside borough councils to account. Though happy to see the Reporter return, one letter writer saw the five week hiatus a breath of fresh air from the usual contributors’ missives. The same set of letters are seen in both titles.

iv. Family and Nostalgia:

The nostalgic articles in both the Reporter and the Chronicle has been required reading for local historians and bloggers alike. Our new look editions didn’t disappoint and pulled out all the stops – features include a double page spread on the history of the Reporter and its titles and a letter from Sir Harold Evans. (As detailed elsewhere on East of the M60, he began his journalistic career with the Reporter before becoming editor of The Sunday Times and The Times).

v. Uncle Ben:

Back after its hiatus, it was business as usual for Uncle Ben, with the usual colouring competition and birthdays. This time, our favourite fictitious character mused over the last 157 years of children’s sections and reprinted some of the jokes and riddles from that period.

vi. Comment/Entertainment:

Seen in both titles now along with Austin Knight is Watchman, which disappointingly for fans of comic arts, has nothing to do with Alan Moore’s comic and spin-off film. The crossword competition remains, again with a £5.00 prize for being first out of the hat. Ditched in the new version of the Reporter is Curmudgeon.

vii. What’s On:

There seems to be more column inches devoted to the What’s On section with events in Tameside and Glossop featured in both the Reporter and Chronicle titles. This I feel is a good thing given the proximity to the High Peak from Tameside.

viii. Classified and Property sections:

Both sections have only seen minor changes to the content.

ix. Sport:

Supporters of the octet of non league sides inside the Reporter and Chronicle’s circulation areas will be more than happy to see their side’s midweek reports again, owing to the Glossop and Tameside Advertiser titles having an earlier print deadline. More welcome is the return of Mike Pavasovic with Pav’s Patch back after a 13 year absence.

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2. Advertising:

Under independent ownership, the title struggled to gain advertising revenue, following increased competition and the recession. There is still the hardcore of established local businesses among its advertisers. Most marked is the cross-promotion of New Charter Housing Trust’s other associated concerns, namely Tameside Radio. East of the M60, in its September article on the sale of the Reporter and Chronicle, realised this likelihood.

In this case, some degree of cross-media promotion (between the newspapers and Tameside Radio) is seen in Pav’s Patch and in the advertisement of Michael Wallbank’s excellent Sunday afternoon programme The Show That Time Forgot. Though this seems daunting to some, cross-media promotion is nothing new, as the BBC and ITV had done so for years with the Radio Times and TV Times. In more recent times, Northern and Shell’s purchase of Channel Five meant every odd advert featuring Richard Desmond’s other projects (in this case the Daily Star, Daily Express and The Health Lottery). Though cross-media promotion is the more noticeable aspect of the new Reporter and Chronicle newspapers, it doesn’t distract the editorial line of the newspaper.

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3: Editorial:

Though both newspapers have changed ownership and design, they are reassuringly for most regular readers, unchanged editorially. Continuity and its onus on community news remains the core of the Reporter and the Chronicle titles. With the same editor at the helm, we shouldn’t expect to see any Damascene shifts in opinion or any deviation from its original premise.

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4. Design:

The most obvious change to both the Tameside Reporter and the Glossop Chronicle is the design. Throughout the newspaper, the main changes have been made to the typography of its headlines and titles. Headlines are now presented in the Verdana typeface, whereas up to last month they used Impact. The choice of Verdana for newspaper headlines may nark off a few traditionalists, but I can see why they opted for this sans-serif font.

In terms of legibility, Verdana ranks highly along with Comic Sans. Both fonts are popular in publicity design where its target audience may otherwise have difficulty reading other typefaces. The former font was designed specifically for internet sites by Microsoft and attracted notoriety when IKEA dropped Futura Bold in favour of Verdana.

The masthead, headers and secondary titles use the Optima Bold font. Once more, narking off the traditionalists, the Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle mastheads are presented in lower case form. At odds with previous practice, each section is denoted by a heading at the top left or top right of the page, which is more informative than ‘TR’, followed by the date and page number. Each section is also given a colour code, as illustrated below:

Colour coded headers and new mastheads for the Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle.

Each section title is followed by a forward slash – very techie in my book, though a mere text decoration for the non computer literate types. Subsections would follow the forward slash – again very techie, and like the file path of a typical computer system. Hence ‘Dukinfield News’ being displayed as ‘News / Dukinfield’. The colour coding also offers potential for increased integration with their website. Each section on their website could continue the colour code seen in the printed editions, also used to good effect on the BBC website. The body text remains in Times New Roman.

Design wise, it is much tidier than the previous editions, and easier on the eyes. That I feel placates older readers who may have had some difficulty with the previous design, and the more cluttered look of its rival journals owned by TrinityMirror.

5. Printing and Technical Characteristics:

The Reporter and Chronicle have stuck to the tabloid format, but the new edition is slightly narrower than the previous by 2cm. After being printed in Newbury, Carlisle and Leek over the last 15 years, the new look titles are printed locally for the first time since 1997. Both ‘papers are now printed at TrinityMirror’s base in Hollinwood, along with the Manchester Evening News and – cough! – the Tameside and Glossop Advertisers!

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6. Conclusion:

Besides being glad of its return, I like the less cluttered layout of the new look Reporter and Chronicle titles. The previous edition basically had the 1986 layout, but it lost a lot of its early slickness in the noughties with changes to the section titles. This made for a most untidy read, almost like the Tameside Advertiser of late. I hope that subsequent changes to the layout are dealt with, with greater sensitivity to the design. Today, I would say that the layout is easier on the eyes for older people and better for prolonged reading.

I have yet to get used to seeing headlines in Verdana. I prefer Helvetica or the Guardian Egyptian typefaces, or GillSans for headlines (the latter type one the Independent on Sunday had a brief flirtation with). The Optima Bold text makes for a nice touch and should be used more to illustrate boxed titles.

Gripes? I would say this concerns the use of the Verdana font. The use of Verdana on some of its secondary titles (for instance, the Fixtures list and advertisements on the inside back page). It tends to transfer the impact of the typeface away from the headlines towards the subheadings. With the boxed ‘Fixtures’ text in uppercase form, Optima Bold will have more impact without jarring too much on the reader. The section boxes could be slightly smaller or be given more white space between the stories on the top left or top right.

Instead of a supersized version of the section box for sport, I think it would have more gravitas if the Optima Bold Tameside Reporter or Glossop Chronicle masthead was repeated in slightly diminished form. Tameside and Glossop could be replaced by ‘sport’ in the lower case form, or another version of the green parallelogram with white uppercase text.

Editorially, it is like returning to an old pair of shoes and remembering how comfortable they were. I was happy to find the same balanced reporting as of before. Furthermore, I am happy at the fact I can read a decent ‘Bridge match report for a midweek match again.

I hope both titles continue to live long and prosper. Though New Charter Housing Trust’s funding of Tameside Radio turned a few heads, they have been a steady pair of hands for the station. With the company being 7th in a Sunday Times Good Employers list, the future for both titles may well be assured. We shall see around 6 to 12 months from now to see if they are prospering in new hands, and not – as some critics fear – be seen as a mouthpiece for their activities.

Given the fact these are the first editions under New Charter Housing Trust’s tutelage, there’s still some teething troubles to overcome. Even so, the pointers look good. Given its reputation for community news, I would like to see increased interactivity between its readers, dead tree and web editions. This could be by means of social networking sites and the beefing up of MyReporter, as an identity for its online activities.

I am glad to see the 157 year old journal back on our newsstands, and sincerely hope fellow Tamesiders and Glossopians feel the same way. Best of luck to everyone involved in the new look Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle!

S.V., 28 October 2012.

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