Colourful days and the death of Eddy's dream

End of the line for 'Today': The newspaper that broke the mould is the victim of falling sales and a harsh economic climate
Click to follow
The Independent Online
As the world's first seven-day electronic newspaper was being put to bed on 3 March 1986, its editor, Brian MacArthur, gathered his exhausted staff together and thanked them.

"Tonight, we've reached the green fields despite the scoffers, the cynics and fair weather friends. It's a magnificent achievement by all of you," he said. It was indeed an achievement that Today came out at all that night. Computer failures dogged production; the new technology that was to have made the newspaper more up-to-the-minute than any other in history was not working; and, of course, the colour printing disaster that was to have become the hallmark of Today was only then being conceived.

Recalling the launch later, Mr MacArthur wrote: "As they left the party celebrating the launch, most staff knew in their hearts that the paper was disappointing.... The greatest betrayal was the quality of the colour, the great promise of Today. We had a genuinely historic picture of the Queen. It had been transmitted in seconds down a telephone line ... scanner machine, the first time that computer technology had been used to transmit new pictures from Australia, where the Queen was on tour, to Britain. As it appeared on the front page, however, the colour was smudged."

It was to have been a technological dream, but it turned into a nightmare for Mr MacArthur and Eddy Shah, the Warrington newspaper proprietor who broke the union stranglehold over print production and launched the first new national newspaper in decades.

Production free from the interference of unions and press barons and direct inputting by journalists was to have been the future. On the back of the dream came other newspapers. Some, like the Independent, survived. Others, like the London Daily News and the Sunday Correspondent, failed.

"There was a tremendous sense of optimism before the launch," Michael Williams, a former Today features editor, recalled. "It was to have been a truly independent, classless newspaper using the latest in technology to produce a clean, colour newspaper with a USA Today style of presentation. But we weren't ready. Shah set a premature deadline ... the staff couldn't cope with the technology. It was chaos and pandemonium come launch time."

On day one, Mr MacArthur said the paper sold more than 1 million copies and could have sold 3 million. But, with daily sales down to 550,000 within months, 400,000 lower than projected, Today ran into severe financial trouble and was sold in a pounds 24m deal to Tiny Rowland's Lonhro in June 1986.

In June 1987, with circulation at just 300,000, Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in a pounds 40m deal and installed as editor David Montgomery, editor of the News of the World. He transformed the paper into a brash, sharp read for the aspiring executive. He was the first to identify the yuppie as a sexy tabloid subject, filling the paper with pound signs, power dressing, mobile phones and property prices. Paradoxically, he was also the first to notice the new wave of green consumerism. He married the two, doubled circulation within a year and earned a Newspaper of the Year title.

For a time, Today was seen as a threat to both the Daily Mail and the Mirror, but that threat subsided with yuppiedom and the fortunes of the Greens. With sales falling below half a million again, 45 journalists were made redundant in January 1991. Mr Montgomery stood down several months later, making way for Martin Dunn, deputy editor of the Sun to tidy up a product left shoddy after its move to Wapping. Mr Dunn's peers believe he performed well, redesigning the paper and stemming the circulation drift, before handing over to Richard Stott, who remained editor until yesterday.

Under the stewardship of Mr Stott - a former Mirror and People editor - the paper leaned harder to the left and Today began to nip at the heels of government and the Establishment.

But circulation wasn't holding steady. It was down to 560,000 from 615,000 last year, and it was the paper's downfall. Despite its fresh lease of life as a campaigning paper, despite comparatively low overheads - offices in Wapping and shared News International presses - the newspaper group was no longer prepared to absorb the losses.

Last night, as its journalists pondered their future, Today was put to bed for the last time.