The first edition of the Birmingham Press certainly feels like a substantial product. It runs to 128 pages (64 of them a property insert). The first 13 are full of news, followed by five pages of news features and comment, four pages on arts, a spread on leisure and garden and then tv listings on pages 28-29. There is a four-page business section at the centre of the paper.
It sells for 50p (although this is described as an introductory price) and it is being given away in some parts of Birmingham.
The first edition of the weekly paper certainly has the look and feel of a reasonably good mid-market, regional tabloid. This is hardly surprising, as it is being edited by Tony Lennox, who for many years produced Trinity Mirror’s weekly papers in Birmingham. Scratch a bit further, though, and there is not much in the news to inspire confidence.
Its front page splash is essentially a spin on an announcement culled from the local authority’s newspaper. It is quite imaginative, but not a desperately strong story. There are no court reports whatsoever, nor are there any stories that constitute covering local government. One piece about local authorities paying debts late quotes no actual sources at all – save for unnamed ‘experts’. There is only one piece based on a check-call to any of the emergency services.
The bulk of the news, once you look carefully at it, is based on press releases.
The features and reviews are stronger – certainly the writing is of a quality that is consistent with the best of the regional press. There are no columnists as such, nor is there an editorial, save for Chris Bullivant’s introduction to the paper.
At the back are 15 pages of sport – a big package. Curiously football is relegated from the actual back pages – indeed, you have to wade through several pages of cricket and golf before the footie. It is a strong, and quite eclectic section, with pieces on hockey, women’s rugby and a lot of golf. It lacks local results page, which would seem an obvious idea for such a paper.
Assessing the paper’s long-term chances on the basis of a single edition is clearly unfair. It is certainly impressive that a product that looks and feels like it has come from a major publisher, was actually pulled together in the editor’s back bedroom. Such a low-cost model may be an uncomfortable prospect for most employed journalists – but if Bullivant can do it, so can others. Indeed, this might provide a blue-print for other publishers to radically reduce the cost base for their existing titles.
For people to actually go out and buy this paper in any numbers – particularly when it is in competition with a well-established rival – the editorial scope and quality is going to have to move up several notches, however.