IN THE search for financial sustainability in a market seemingly trapped in a spiral of terminal decline, newspaper editors are wont to do strange things – although abandoning what most of us know as ‘news’ seems an alarmingly radical step.
A publisher in Macclesfield, already running a successful website, has decided to launch a newspaper aimed explicitly at “clever people”, declaring that there would be “no cats up fucking trees coverage”. The fortnightly newspaper will be printed on decent stock and its 48 full-colour pages will feature arts, literature, fashion, politics and sport. It will be distributed free to homes and carry a cover price of £1.
Doubters will mock the idea of launching a print product (God, how I hate that term) in this digital age, but I think there is some merit in the notion. If we accept that people are increasingly getting basic local news from websites and mobiles (and the piss-poor offerings of local regional news programmes) then what can we do to make our newspapers worth that £1? Well we can offer in-depth reporting, backgrounders, investigations, colour, analysis and, probably most importantly amidst the digital clutter, editing. We can tell people what we think is important and what we think they should be reading. All that is added value. Unfortunately it also involves resource (i.e. journalists), a fact that the regional publishing suits refuse to accept.
This is not to say that a traditional news service could, or should, be abandoned, as our friend in Macclesfield may find out to his cost. People are interested in “cats up fucking trees”. They want to know why there was a fire engine at the end of their street, they want to know who owns the climbing cat, they want to know how it got up there in the first place and, as any reporter who has ever worked for me knows all too well, they want to know the name of the damn cat. And woe betide the trainee who returned to the office without that essential information.
The importance of traditional news may also soon rear its necessarily ugly head in Bristol, where the editor of the Post (circulation 29,475) has unveiled a new look with front page headlines replaced by a magazine-style picture montage. He also says that the paper will now put more emphasis on lifestyle content and will also aim to highlight positive news: “The paper has a brand new look. It’s bright, modern and aimed more at celebrating the city and the success of its people than accentuating what is negative about Bristol”.
Oh dear. Now I like Bristol. It’s a great city with a huge history, a thriving cultural scene and a distinct sense of identity shored up by its occasionally obstreperous inhabitants. But it is a city; a big city. And like any other, it has murders, rapes, drugs, guns, gangs, poverty, child abuse, robberies, dodgy politicians, failing schools and hospitals and troublesome gypsies. How are these important stories to be reflected on a happy-clappy front page tasked with celebrating positive news?
And don’t give me that clap-trap about focus groups complaining that local newspapers are too negative. The punters lie. They always have and they always will do. Stick 25 middle-class, middle-aged readers in a conference room with a glass of warm white wine and a dish of Twiglets and of course none of them are going to say: “Well what I enjoy reading is a really juicy rape trial.”
Of course there is a place for intelligent, informed lifestyle content, but surely it must take its place alongside the sometimes harsh realities of life which affect current readers and potential readers. And that doesn’t mean burying ‘bad’ news.
Oh, and the cat in the picture above? His name is Eric.
The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan