Media: Double Standards - 'The Queen owned a rat-infested council house'

The editors of two of the country's leading regional papers talk about embracing the internet and appealing to young readers and advertisers.

PAUL HORROCKS - editor, Manchester Evening News

- What does your paper offer readers that they can't get elsewhere?

We set the news agenda in Greater Manchester with the TV, radio stations and the following day's nationals generally following up our stories. We also carry out investigations and run campaigns.

- What, if any, recent changes have you made to the title's design?

The MEN has just undergone a root-and-branch redesign. This has led to the number of stories in the paper being boosted by around 25 per cent, a modern, more European look and full colour on every page.

- What's your favourite story to have run recently in the paper?

We discovered that a rat-infested council house in a rundown suburb, which neighbours complained about, was owned by ... the Queen. Due to a historical twist, the property had fallen into the ownership of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is controlled by the Queen. The council wrote her a letter asking her to put her house in order.

- What impact has the launch of free titles such as Metro had on the paid-for daily market?

Metro has had an impact on sales, but nothing like as great as predicted. It has largely reached an audience that was not buying newspapers. When Metro was first launched, we immediately launched our own rival free to compete with it. Now we are business partners with Metro.

- How does being part of a larger media group help your newspaper?

In Greater Manchester alone, we have more than 20 weekly titles in the group. They run themselves separately, but there is now a good arrangement whereby we share stories and pictures, and also give the weeklies access to our archive. Having The Guardian in the group also gives us a status, and allows us to tap into a wealth of experience.

- What recent event has created the biggest increase in your circulation?

Going part-paid-for, part-free - and on the story front, our coverage of the death of a big local gangster brought a huge surge in sales.

- What do you offer online for readers?

As well as carrying all that day's news from the MEN, the website breaks stories that come outside our edition times. This year, we have started sending reporters out with audio recorders and video recorders to capture sound and pictures, which are then used on the website. We are also launching our own lunchtime news bulletins, on video, direct from the MEN newsroom.

- The common perception is that regional press is suffering both editorially and commercially because of the internet. To what degree is this true?

There is no doubt there has been a commercial impact, with newspapers losing some ad revenue to the web. However, editorially it has only strengthened the paper because of the wider coverage we can now give readers, who can choose how they want to receive their news.

- How would you describe your readership?

We strive to make the paper more attractive to younger readers with more entertainment content, show reviews, and the cross-promotion of our content with our website.

- Have you created any special content recently for advertisers that has really stood out?

Our Wednesday homes supplement has been a huge success. Editorially led, with news and features about the housing market, it has attracted a lot of advertising and grown in size.

- What do you most enjoy about your job?

The freedom of it.

PETER CHARLTON - editor, The Yorkshire Post

- What does your paper offer readers that they can't get elsewhere?

We offer a unique package that is a daily celebration of Yorkshire and its people. We stand up for Yorkshire individuality and demonstrate, on a regular basis, why the quality of life in the region is the best.

- What, if any, recent changes have you made to the title's design?

There is now far more interaction between paper and website and vice versa. We have added two new supplements this year: a second dedicated supplement for business readers and the other covers life and style issues.

- What's your favourite story to have run recently in the paper?

The man who sold his charmingly named house, which gave us the opportunity to write a blurb which said: "Living in Cloud Cuckoo Land." This may have been the first and only time that this well-known phrase was literally true ... and could be used without a law suit. On a personal level, Sheffield United winning promotion to the Premiership.

- What impact has the launch of free titles such as Metro had on the paid-for daily market?

In my book, you live with competition, in whatever form it takes, and strive to improve your own title - trying to ensure it is both comprehensive and bright; exciting, yet trustworthy. That approach has to run through every section of the paper - be it news, sport, features, opinion and analysis, or business.

- How does being part of a larger media group help your newspaper?

It gives the team confidence to know that we are owned by a group that believes in the future of newspapers. In Johnston Press, we have one with a proven track record of growing the business.

- What recent event has created the biggest increase in your circulation?

The death of Freddie Trueman, the doyen of Yorkshire and England fast bowlers; the anniversary of the 7 July bombings and the Great Yorkshire Show!

- What do you offer online for readers?

The entire editorial content of The Yorkshire Post, plus exclusive involvement in campaigns and events from across the region, such as the search to find a high-profile landmark sculpture for Yorkshire.

- The common perception is that regional press is suffering both editorially and commercially because of the internet. To what degree is this true?

Ultimately, I think you could also see them as being complementary - perhaps, the nearest comparison is the way "frees" were regarded as the new enemy 20 years ago. It also reinforces The Yorkshire Post brand because our internet site allows us to stay in touch with readers who may have left the region, or even the country.

- How would you describe your readership?

Involved. Informed with a strong sense of purpose ... and a belief in the area they have chosen to live and work.

- Have you created any special content recently for advertisers that has really stood out?

We've launched four supplements in the past 18 months. We've also extended the brand into key markets by working with partners to stage events that give us profile and additional revenue - anything from an awards dinner aimed at business readers to promoting horse-racing.

- What do you most enjoy about your job?

When The Yorkshire Post takes a stance on an issue - or runs a campaign - the people that matter take notice.