Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson publishing conundrum

The timing of Michael Jackson's death left us - and many other regional newspapers - with a difficult decision.

At the Leicester Mercury, we see ourselves as a local newspaper. We report on Leicester and Leicestershire and rarely stray beyond these boundaries other than to put a local angle on to national or international events. But sometimes, things happen that are just so big that it is impossible to ignore them.

Princess Diana's death, the country going to war, 9/11, the London tube bombings, Lockerbie, the Hungerford and Dunblane shootings - these are all examples of things which are not local, but which are so enormous in terms of public conscientiousness and reaction, that I believe a newspaper not leading on them looks odd.

I don't think Michael Jackson's death comes quite into the same category despite the level of reaction, but, nevertheless, we took the decision late on Thursday evening to lead the paper on the night's events. Why was that? It was at least in part because it happened so late that I thought that it might miss the early editions of the national newspapers, but it was also because I felt that it was a big enough story to mean that it would be the only thing people were talking about the next day.

Was that the right decision? I don't know. Many other regional papers disagreed and didn't change up and it's too early to see what effect it had on our sales figures. However, I would say that when I saw the bills in the streets later in the day, I felt the decision was right.

What made the decision more difficult was knowing that whatever we put on the front at 2 or 3 in the morning, was going to stay there all day. I would have felt more comfortable if we could have had the shock news of Jackson's death on our front page first thing in the morning when people were still digesting the news, but later in the day, or early in the evening, when many people read the paper, moved on to looking at the reaction ... but that's no longer possible with our overnight printing.

I've posted before about the fact that I believe that early morning printing means that we should be able to get later news into the paper than previously on most occasions, but this does highlight the downside of a single print run and it doesn't make the decision any easier!

As an aside, I noticed that the version of the article that we put on our website at midnight, but replaced by about 8am, was read almost 700 times.