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`Guardian' and `Mail' start tabloid war on streets of Manchester

MANCUNIANS HAVE not been treated to their own morning paper for 40 years. Yesterday they were confronted with two on the same day as they found themselves at the centre of a free-tabloid battle.

The Guardian Media Group, publishers of the Manchester Evening News, brought out Manchester MetroNews, while Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, countered with Metro North-West. The Manchester Guardian, in 1959, was the last morning title with the city's name on its masthead.

Yesterday the new colour tabloids were distributed on Manchester's bus, rail and tram network and on the streets. Associated Newspapers is also responsible for the Metro free title handed out to London commuters.

Guardian Media said it had intended publishing the first of five test editions yesterday before a launch in January but was forced into full publication after news of Metro North-West's launch slipped out on Wednesday. "We had not anticipated them coming in as they did," said the Manchester Evening News managing director, Ian Ashcroft.

Both new papers will publish every weekday. Manchester MetroNews is produced at the Manchester Evening News offices, where 15 production journalists have been recruited. Metro North-West will be brought out by an editorial and advertising staff of 25 at Associated's Manchester offices.

If the first day's contest is anything to go by, Guardian Media must be hoping local news is the main attraction. Though both papers made the Irish peace process their lead story, Manchester MetroNews ran a column of brief Northern stories on its front page and included considerable local news inside. Metro North-West, a near-replica of the London Metro, carried almost exclusively national news stories. Those local stories it did carry were lifted from the Manchester Evening News, claimed Mr Ashcroft.

Mike Anderson, deputy managing director of the London Metro, said Manchester people were "worldly wise and well- travelled" and did not want local news stories.

But Mr Ashcroft said locals may react negatively to the "London imposition". He insisted his title would be more than a morning edition of the Manchester Evening News, though its existing news- gathering resources will be used to generate local material. "It will be distinct, with its own style and identity. We are describing it as `free and easy reading in the morning'," said Mr Ashcroft. The Manchester Evening News will continue to publish its free weekly Metro, distributed to more than 300,000 households in the city.

Mr Anderson said all 100,000 copies of his new title available yesterday were distributed. Many of its ABC1 commuting audience do not buy a daily newspaper, he said. Last night's Manchester Evening News (itself discounted to 10p as, it has been every Friday for the past two year) proclaimed its new stable-mate a success.