Each Friday, Points North gives a senior media figure a platform to air their views on a topical or relevant issue.
Sunday night and I’m crapping bricks. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. And I’m bloody good at both, normally.
We were going to run a blank front page on Monday. Unsurprisingly the first time we’ve done that in 136 years. Marketing director Zoe Harris was reassuring. A beacon of calm. “It’ll be fine,” she said. “We need to do two things. Disrupt people’s equilibrium so they take notice and get as many views as quickly as we can. Don’t worry!”
When I’d agreed to do it I was dismayed that my MD Carl Wood and newspaper sales director Alan Tyldesley didn’t try to talk me out of it. It would have been a lovely get-out.
“It’ll hit sales,” I warned, with a shake of a head grizzled by 36 years of hard knocks. “So what?” they said. “It’ll be different, unique and it’s a risk worth taking.”
So we did it.
Monday 6am it was online and on the newsstands. By 7am we’d had 70 questionnaires back. The tweets tumbled in like they’d been tipped off the back of a dumper truck. I asked Liverpool to #TellAli. Let me tell you – I’m getting well and bloody truly told.
It is uplifting, frightening, joyous, humiliating. It is chastening, it is brutal, it is heart-warming. Above all it is affirming.
The readers, by the thousand, are telling us what formal research had done. The Echo needs to change.
The headlines so far?
1. We’ve become over-reliant on crime and are dragging down the mood of readers. They feel Liverpool is a great, modern, vibrant city and the Echo is rooted in post-industrial decline. For God’s sake cheer up, they are saying.
2. Give us more stuff about things to do, say the readers – the arts, what’s on etc. It’s all happening in Liverpool and the Echo needs to realise it and report it.
3. And they’ve had enough already with the ‘old news’. They’ve read it on phones and tablets. They are telling us to tell them what’s GOING to happen not what’s happened, and to get under the surface of the stories that matter.
They move of the printing press work to Oldham seven years ago still rankles. So I ran a new piece explaining that we did it out of financial necessity and a determination to survive. People weren’t accepting that but they appreciated getting a response.
I’m doing a lot of responding. I answered and am answering hundreds of #TellAli tweets. The feedback is often massively critical, sometimes undeserved, sometimes bang on the money. But the fact I bothered to respond seemed to matter to people, even people who didn’t give me the lickings of a dog are favouriting or retweeting when I reply to them.
I did two radio phones the first night. My top writer, Paddy Shennan, is acting as unofficial relaunch correspondent making sure all the feedback is reflected in the pages of the Echo, in print and online. People are taking the trouble to #TellAli and need to know it isn’t a stunt. They need to know we are listening and acting on what they #TellAli.
Jotforms, Facebook comments, tweets. They are still pouring in and I hope they will for the rest of the month. I expect readers and non-readers to keep on telling me that Liverpool is unrecognisable from what it was 20 years ago and that the Echo must catch up.
It is touching in the extreme that so many people care enough to contribute their thoughts. Even many of the most cutting have been at pains to say the Echo means a lot to them. A colleague, even older than I, suggested it wouldn’t work at any other regional paper. That it was pure Liverpool.
Anyway. It has worked, it is working and we are full steam ahead for relaunch.
“Thank God,” said the marketing director, “I was shitting it.”
Alastair Machray is editor of the Liverpool Echo