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News & Views

Headless body in topless bar and the lessons we can learn

AS A keen student of the newspaper industry and its rich history, I am always looking past the haze of smoke-filled press bars for lessons from those halcyon days.

Could it be that our quest for creative content which inspires and excites lies in the biographies and lives of those who made the newspaper industry THE business to be in for supreme story-tellers, back in the day?

One such man, someone who could teach us all a thing or two about story packages, was Roger Wood, who passed away in New York last week aged 87.

Mr Wood was a former Daily Express editor when it was “the world’s greatest newspaper” and backed its bold claim with a daily sale of five million.

He was poached by Rupert Murdoch in the mid-70s when the media magnate bought the New York Post.

By the end of his time in the hot seat, he had transformed the tabloid’s tired news pages, drafted in the best headline writers in the business, introduced the fabulous Page Six column (now edited by my former colleague Emily Smith) and doubled circulation to more than one million.

His eye-catching headlines included the ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar’, for the splash about a madman who forced a hostage, at gun-point, to cut off the head of a strip bar boss, for the report on the crowd stampede during The Who concert in Cincinnati ‘Eleven Dead – And The Band Played On’, story of teen suicide ‘Boy Gulps Gas, Explodes’ and ‘Granny Executed In Her Pink Pyjamas’, which speaks for itself.

The subject matter was dark and brutal, but the light touch and humour of the sub-editors drew in readers like moths to a flame.

The clever use of language and slick word play is something we could clearly apply to social media in garnering Likes and Hits for clients.

The Sun newspaper in the UK last week notched up 600,000 Likes on its Facebook page.

It caused a sensation in social media circles and there seemed to be a quiet frenzy as people attempted to deconstruct the cause and effect. I would put my money on the Roger Wood formula.

Quite simply it’s great story-telling and supremely intelligent use of the English language – albeit in the short, headline form.

The Sun has an acid test for content called the “Hey Doris” formula. It has to be interesting enough to trigger a water cooler moment or a shout across the pantry, “Hey Doris – Come and look at this”.

We should all keep this in mind as we strive to create original content for our clients and their businesses which stakeholders can coalesce around.

For me, I’ll keep reading those histories about the glory days of London and Manchester – New York and Washington – and apply those tried and tested theories in the modern, digital age.

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