Wanted: Nude woman to clean Kingswood pensioner’s home and fulfil his fantasies.
That was the headline on the Bristol Post’s second best-performing web story yesterday.
It was an intriguing – and well-written – tale about a man aged 69 (yes, he’d have to be, wouldn’t he?) with a bizarre secret: he employs women to clean his home in the nude.
My friends at the Post pulled no punches with their story, which made it clear exactly what ‘John’ does and doesn’t do while the women attack his home with their dusters.
It wasn’t exactly run of the mill fare for a regional news title which thinks about its coverage more carefully than most.
And, not surprisingly, the armchair warrior editors were out in relative force in the comments section.
And the journalistic standards bar get set ever lower. Hang your heads in shame.
That was one of the milder ones.
With perfect timing, the Post piece appeared on the same day as an interview with the digital director of my employer Local World, Matt Kelly, on the InPublishing website.
Matt’s central point is that regional media titles have to change their thinking on content and be more comfortable about breaking out of conventional hang-ups and habits to reflect the fun, fascinations and frenzy in people’s lives.
Now I’ve been a journalist for 30 years, and firmly believe that the regional media has a proud part to play in changing communities for the better, spreading vital information, and challenging prejudice and official bungling alike.
But Matt’s right.
And the Post was right to carry that story on its site.
It’s a tale that I could quite imagine seeing somewhere in a Guardian supplement, or in all manner of quality magazines.
Its presence there would be no more a reason for heads to be hung in shame than its appearance on Bristolpost.co.uk.
Because it’s part of the warp and weft of life, and part of a rich tapestry of coverage that reflects every other aspect of existence.
On that same Post site yesterday were stories about a missing mum, the likely next Labour mayoral candidate, an anti-austerity protest and the death of the city’s oldest woman.
All human life was there.
If people didn’t want to read about ‘John’ and his secret on a site where journalism is provided for free, no one was forcing them to.
But more than 10,000 did.
And here’s the thing.
Just as the pollsters found out to their embarrassment earlier this month, what people say they like and are going to do, and what they actually do are two very different things.
People say they like the idea of newspapers writing worthy stuff about council sub-committees and charity fundraising days.
And then they go off to sneak a peek at the sidebar of shame on Mail Online, or to follow a Facebook post link to Buzzfeed or Distractify.
There are closed-down churches, pubs and post offices across the land with crocodile tears lapping around their doorsteps.
But there are also booming congregations, thriving pubs and post offices which have found new homes in busy businesses.
They’ve all found an audience by moving with the times, thinking laterally, throwing off any vestiges of stuffiness – and welcoming people in.
And they’ve done that without losing integrity or quality.
I would gently suggest there’s a message there for all of us in the regional media.