The new looks are familiar ones. Cases i Associats designed The Independent titles, including the i, and headline, byline and text fonts in the three Johnston papers resemble those used or formerly used by the Lebedev stable. Both The Bucks Herald (Aylesbury, Premier Newspapers) and the Harrogate Advertiser (Harrogate, Ackrill Newspapers) run in their new compact formats to over a hundred pages, 152 in the first case and 180 in the second. Despite the editor of the Advertiser saying that research shows that readers prefer their papers in single sections, this reader finds his 200+ page Oxford Times (a Newsquest publication rather than Johnston) unwieldy and suggests that compact newspapers which reach that size follow the example of the Lincolnshire Echo which has become a multi-section newspaper. The final relaunched Johnston paper I've seen, the Northumberland Gazette (Alnwick, Northeast Press) reached a less weighty 64 pages.
I live on the western fringe of the Bucks Herald circulation area and picked up its last broadsheet issue last week; its look suggested a recent redesign with uncluttered broadsheet pages and white space. The Harrogate Advertiser seems from internet records of its front pages to have gone down a similar route, though I remember it having had a busier look in the not-too-distant past. The broadsheet Northumberland Gazette was a weekly of more traditional appearance, with a busy front page and births, marriages and deaths on page two. The last Gazette in its old format was little changed to my eye from its last major redesign in the early 1990s, save for evolutionary changes brought by changes in technology such as colour printing. Both The Bucks Herald and the Northumberland Gazette included commemorative features on their histories in their final broadsheet numbers, the Aylesbury paper emphasising headlines in the last thirty years as well as early history - though their front page claim that the black-and-white group photograph of Herald staff showed the founding team of 1832 was extremely unlikely on the grounds of the late Victorian fashion displayed, quite apart from the underdevelopment of photography in the early 1830s. The Gazette raced through the history of periodical publishing in Alnwick, recalling long-lost early nineteenth-century attempts before the establishment of the Alnwick Mercury, the oldest title in the Gazette family tree. A montage of headlines and profiles of editors suggested the Gazette's place in social, business and cultural history in mid- and north Northumberland. With both the Northumberland Gazette and The Bucks Herald, one did wonder if the opportunity to commemorate the paper's role was being taken now in case the banks baying around the Johnston Press campfire decide an end should come to them with no warning.
The Bucks HeraldThe Bucks Herald was the first to reach its compact form, on Wednesday; the paper opted for an upbeat look forward to the Diamond Jubilee weekend with the headline 'We're going to party like it was 1952!' Turnovers include a special offer for a bacon butty and coffee at the Bell in Aylesbury - "one of our Fabulous five offers to celebrate the launch of your new Bucks Herald" - with the news story treated as a hook being 'Prisoners involved in hostage drama' on page 5 (though the story itself turns out to be small), and the lead sport story being the appointment of Craig Faulconbridge as player-manager of Aylesbury FC. Inside the paper page 2 becomes 'Your Week...' with a horizontal strap offering a cheery '5 things to do this week' above a 'Picture of the week' showing children from Brill brandishing the hobbyhorses they were to display during the village's jubilee celebrations. MP for Buckingham John Bercow greets the new Bucks Herald in his column 'Speakers' Corner'. Small print on the bottom right of the page promises readers that 'The court list and planning applications will return next week.'
There is some good use of pictures: page 3's lead, 'Phil protests against pricey parking permits', shows Conservative councillor Phil Yerby reflected in his rear view mirror clutching his torn-up Aylesbury Vale District Council parking permit, in a populist attack on councillors' free parking perk. The picture spreads on pages 18-19 and 24-25 largely speak for themselves though some demand reproduction at a larger size. Some individual images could be better-used too, such as the allegedly 'towering' jubilee cake being raffled layer-by-layer on page 9, but which appears little bigger than a postage stamp. On the other hand if readers have a tractor obsession the gallery of Geoff Jarvis's vintage farm machinery on page 27 is worth the 55p cover price. The impression of a team used to being able to make an impact with photographs on broadsheet spreads fighting on with grim determination in the face of an unforgivingly rigid new template.
There are a few other teething troubles - the 'Princes Risborough' subheading in the healthy 'Town & village news' section appears twice, the second time in the middle of a piece on a Jubilee street party, but this gives the impression of a paper with a good relationship with its village correspondents. A pity perhaps that they are shunted towards the back of the paper, next to the bland and generic Diamond Jubilee 'supplement', unsurprisingly similar to the one which appears in the Harrogate Advertiser. The appearance of the May edition of Going for Gold: Countdown to the Olympics within The Bucks Herald as well, placed before the central property section, leaves the centre of the paper something of a swamp, and it's unfortunate that this Olympic feature doesn't fit well in design terms with the rest of the paper, though it seems to have attracted plenty of advertising.
Ashley writes! Few QRs in Harrogate...
Of the three newspapers I've seen, The Bucks Herald is the only one to have a message from Johnston chief executive Ashley Highfield, leading the OpEd double spread (though its heading is 'Letters to the Editor' there is one from the editor to readers there too, as well as from his boss). Highfield promises 'more improvements to come including integration with Facebook and Twitter', remarks on his Buckinghamshire upbringing, and reiterates that he wants to keep the paper 'relevant and useful, across all media - print, web and mobile, and additionally bring in a new audience.' The Bucks Herald and the Northumberland Gazette are now both littered with QR codes throughout their pages. These promise maps of the Olympic torch relay, entry forms for local events, external website links (with the actual addresses buried unnoticeably in text) or - particularly in the case of the Northumberland Gazette - just 'more news' or an extended version of the paper's interview with local MP Sir Alan Beith.
The Harrogate Advertiser hasn't been as enthusiastic for QR codes, and where the Herald and the Gazette have gone for a headline font which is a relative of Bodoni, the Harrogate Advertiser and its close siblings in North and West Yorkshire - who also made the tabloid switch this week - have adopted a warmer kinsfont of Century. A similar but harder-edged font appears in the new masthead, which sensibly emphasises the locality over the noun in the paper's title. Readers are invited to study the 'Essential Guide' to the Jubilee weekend and are promised free sausages from Fodder, who have the advertisement across the foot of the page. The lead story is harder than that in The Bucks Herald, announcing the rebuilding of Harrogate High School; Canon-designate Revd Francis Wainaina gives his blessing to the new paper, of which he holds a dummy, in the front page photograph. Editor Jean MacQuarrie welcomes readers to the new Advertiser in the rightmost column, mentioning her Meet the Editor forum on publication day - early in the paper's shelf life - and attributing the change entirely to readers' requests and making no mention of Johnston Press or the need to adapt to the internet age. Like The Bucks Herald page 2 is given over to a contents-themed miscellany, with an opinion piece and two strong pictures, one large and well-positioned of the staff of Flying Colours flagmakers in Knaresborough anticipating the Diamond Jubilee weekend, and one smaller and less meaningful of pupils from Harrogate visiting Auschwitz. Both link to features later in the paper, and throughout the new-look Harrogate Advertiser makes better use of the new template in terms the balance between copy and communicative images, both editorial and advertising, than does The Bucks Herald.
Continued in part two!