Grey Cardigan
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When a newspaper’s grand gesture isn’t all it seems

NEWSPAPERS are fond of the grand gesture. The big reward to catch the perpetrator of a heinous crime (which is hardly ever paid out); the instant petition culminating in a sackful of cut-out signatures being handed over to a reluctant Downing Street flunky (after which we never hear of the issue again); the hasty campaign, launched in knee-jerk fashion, which quietly fizzles out when readers get bored of it (I have never, ever, launched a campaign without planning exactly how and when we would get a satisfactory result).

So, when the dreadful floods hit the West Country, the region’s press was quick to react. And quite right, too. The nationals only bothered with the dire situation on the Levels if the TV news had run some dramatic pictures the night before. With the exception of The Sun, of course, which thought that sending a Page 3 stunner in a tight T-shirt clutching copies of the paper and a four-pack of lager to the sodden Somerset enclave of Muchelney was an amusing stunt. Locals were decidedly unimpressed. At least lessons were learnt – when the filthy flood waters rose in the Thames Valley (and the brilliant phrase “when the effluent met the affluent” was coined), the national media suddenly developed a keen interest in the story, only this time The Sun sent lorries bearing branded sandbags, with not a Page 3 girl in sight.

But back to the local press. First out of the blocks with a significant positive step were, remarkably, US-based Gannett, owners through Newsquest of the Somerset County Gazette and the Bridgwater Mercury, who handed over £10,000 to the fund set up to help victims of the flood. A generous gesture which will create great community pay-back for the two weekly titles.

(Of course, cynics amongst us might suspect that this positive PR was generated to offset the appalling way the company is treating its employees in the North by forcing them to relocate to Wales or lose their jobs.)

With the usually insular Americans coughing up some cash, the moral baton then passed to Local World, publisher of half a dozen titles in the region, including the largest, the Western Daily Press. Their much-heralded gesture was splashed (sorry) on the front page of the WDP – 10% of the cover price of last Monday’s edition would now be donated to the flood fun. Impressive, eh? Well, until you do the math, as our friends from Gannett would say.

The cover price of the Western Daily Press is 60p. The average sale of the Western Daily Press is around 26,000 a day. Even an innumerate editor can work out that this adds up to £15,600 and that 10% of that is £1,560. To put this in context, the quoted rate for a full-page ad in the Western Daily Press is £2,625.

Now forgive me for being ungracious, but that’s not exactly going to solve many problems, is it? A quick goggle suggests it would pay for 445 pre-filled sandbags or eight (yes, just eight) household flood pumps. In fact, I’d bet it cost The Sun more than £1,560 to get a Page 3 model and four cans of lager to marooned Muchelney. Sorry, chaps. Nice try, but Could Do Better.

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Grey Cardigan

Written by Grey Cardigan

The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan

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