Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Bold front page photo had readers’ wrapped attention

What better celebration of the new Northern Ireland could there be than the Telegraph’s front page on Tuesday?

The photo of Peter Jack atop the Giant’s Causeway was a stunning visual statement. It spoke volumes about the kind of images that are being projected around the world about Northern Ireland these days.

It’s all a long way from the Troubles, or even those drawn-out post-Troubles years of political paralysis. (Longer still, since the “dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone” so mourned by an exasperated Winston Churchill in 1922.) Yet however strong that image, the decision to clear the front page of its normal content was a bold and confident one. In these days of declining print circulation, it can sometimes be a very brave decision for an editor to veer away from the norm.

People are conditioned to the front page of their chosen newspaper looking a certain way — and sometimes, when things are done differently, it can lead to confusion and even a dip in circulation.

A good example can be making a sports story the main front page lead (known in the trade as the ‘splash’).

Blokes can, obviously, get all fired up by sport, but, as some 50% of purchasers are women, splashing on sport in the UK market doesn’t often deliver circulation increases — and sometimes serves up the opposite.

So the decision to create the front page was a bold one — and bolder still to use it in ‘wraparound’ style.

This is a technique whereby a single image is used across the front and back pages — ‘wrapping around’ the paper, so to speak.

Used correctly, it can create a stunning visual effect. I can still remember it being used brilliantly by the Daily Mirror after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the vivid blue of the sky contrasted by the spiralling plumes of smoke, and also, of course, after 9/11.

Used improperly, however, the wraparound can be a visual and commercial disaster. The general rule of newspaper thumb is that this is a device to deploy as rarely as possible. Tuesday’s paper was undoubtedly, in my mind, one of those occasions.

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From the sublime to the ridiculous, I’m afraid. Reader Chris Murphy writes in to upbraid us for a caption. “Congratulations on your recent awards,” writes Chris, “and thanks for sharing that great picture of the four cygnets enjoying the warm weather. But whoever wrote the caption ‘Signets and a swan ...’ should brush up on their spelling and try to get out more!”

Signets, I’ll remind those who wrote and sub-edited the caption, belong on rings. And don’t have any feathers.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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