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Wendy Richard’s newspaper memorial

February 27, 2009

Richard in The SunCommuters are the newspaper editors’ captive audience. Trapped in a train carriage or a tube train, an editor must surely know that their target audience isn’t just those who purchase their publication but also those travelling to work who clock the front cover of other publications in the hands of other commuters, or read a story over someone else’s shoulder.

There’s no more potent a reminder of this than this morning.

News of Wendy Richard’s death has provided tabloid newspaper editors with useful material. Gory details aren’t necessary here, instead an opportunity to juxtapose the word “institution” with full page images of the recently deceased in his or her heyday.

All the elements are there. A person instantly recognisable to a mainstream audience has died from an incurable disease. Richard is pictured a shadow of her former self. The implicit editorial guaranteed to tug at the heart strings.

The Mirror's angleIt’s not just that it will sell papers. Stories like present a different angle on a disease which everyone hears about all the time but no-one thinks they will suffer from. More cynical observers might also suggest that such stories reinforce newspaper brands with its existing audience whilst striking a chord with a new one.

Such a deeply cynical view may initially appear as deeply insensitive. That’s not the intention, however.

Instead, the Richard story is a perfect example of how the tangible effect of newspapers steals a march over TV and radio. If reading news online provides a chunk of almost immediately disposable content, then newspapers have the power in some instances of offering something more lasting by judicious use of full-page images and highly-crafted copy.

Perhaps it goes some way to quieten the voices who pronounce the newspaper’s life is at an end.

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