Does a new look mean a fresh start for the Staggers?
Sunday 11 June 2006
"The first 40 pages are rolling." This is relayed triumphantly from the printers by Tim Moore, the New Statesman's marketing manager. The fact of the Statesman having a marketing manager is indicative of the new professionalism to which the magazine aspires. It was relaunched last week with a major fanfare from its editor John Kampfner, and a redesign, using a larger size and more white space, by Stephen Coates and Simon Esterson.
But the redesign is only part of the story. "The old idea was that if you're left wing you should be a bit shambolic," Kampfner says. No more. A publication noted for its "edgy, controversial journalism, fine writing and intelligence", thinks its editor, should have a much wider audience. But will the addition of more humour and longer reads help it acquire it? The reaction of some of its traditional readers is mixed.
Anthony Howard Editor, 'New Statesman', 1972-78
"I thought it was quite clean and seems to be quite nice looking but what counts is content. I've never seen letters given such pride of place, except in The Economist. The change in size is only marginal but it looks quite nice. Among the contributors, I was surprised I didn't see Andrew Stephen, who writes from America, or Pilger, but I'm glad that dreadful column by Darcus Howe has disappeared.
"They do need to perk up and become more entertaining but I don't know if it will work. The difference is possibly that they have invested in trendy names who can't always be wonderful writers.
"Trying to shake the austerity and the hair-shirt image has been quite successful. They have done a good job, when I consider the botched jobs. I suspect it's going to be difficult keeping the advertising up in a 72-page magazine."
Nick Cohen 'Observer' columnist and current 'New Statesman' contributor
"The main worry with any modern newspaper or magazine is that every redesign cuts down on words, as though they are frightened of words. But I don't think that's a problem with the New Statesman. John Kampfner's guiding motto is that magazines like the Statesman, in order to survive, have to give readers a treat, something you can't get elsewhere. John's keen on big pieces, which is good, but he also needs to provide the zippy little pieces and celebs.
"It used to be said that the left was joyless but in a funny way satire's the dominant idiom on the liberal left now because there isn't a credible left-wing programme. So in some ways there is too much satire. It's a medium traditionally associated with Conservatives because the world was changing. The common charge on the left now is that you are a hypocrite. Calling people a hypocrite is a sign of defeat. But I don't think it's a problem so much in the New Statesman as in the mainstream liberal press."
Francis Wheen Reporter, 'New Statesman', 1972-78
"There's no reason why it cannot be outspoken or without a sense of fun. Traditionally, as in the Seventies, that is what it was."
Boyd Tonkin Books editor, 'The Independent'; literary editor, 'New Statesman', 1991-96
"The design is perfectly OK. They have had redesigns in the past, but it never adds more than 10 per cent circulation. It's a very fixed audience that's really not showing many signs of expanding. Every time it is relaunched, the editor says the same thing: 'Don't think we are worthy and dull - we have lots of jokes, we're stylish and like eating and drinking as much as readers of The Spectator.'
"If they wanted to expand as a cutting-edge, left-wing weekly, there would be a case for being more puritanical - going for the anti-globalisation/Respect Party/ deep-green constituency, which is now pretty powerful. Those people don't want columns about the best Chilean wines.
"It was the same when I was there. It tried to show it wasn't just about joyless sandal wearers, but the people who could swell the circulation are not the people who want a laid-back sophisticated metropolitan magazine.
"You only have to look at the sheer anger and passion driving online radical journalism to see that there are a lot of people who would be appalled about giving David Cameron an easy ride. There is a pretty hard radical constituency who might want a weekly print magazine, but unfortunately I can't see what they would find to enjoy in the sort of metropolitan package the Statesman is always trying to produce.
"It's not hard for the New Statesman to run an arts and books section. The real problem is that, compared to 30-40 years ago, all the main broadsheets now do the same and more of it. Just a generation ago there wasn't that degree of cultural coverage."
Alan Watkins 'IoS' columnist; political columnist 'New Statesman', 1967-76
"I'm considering moving en bloc to the New Statesman. I read The Spectator and Private Eye usually, but this decision is more in hostility to The Spectator.
"John Kampfner, who is an excellent chap, is hiring lots of gay comedians as writers- Julian Clary and Stephen Fry. Rory Bremner is OK - he's a gifted lad but not a columnist. So the short point is: I might consider it now because of that dreadful 'You've Earned It' section in The Spectator. So I might give it a run."
Stuart Weir Editor, 'New Statesman', 1987-91
"I think it's much better. Undoubtedly, there are things I'm not that sure about it. Essentially it's a great deal more elegant; I'm not sure what they are going to do with the cover generally.
"There have been times when the Statesman has had a sense of fun. I certainly wrote a few joke articles - one spoof taking the piss out of Mandelson in the form of a memo, which everyone thought was real. There was also a piece explaining the strategy for Labour depended on global warming - the bits on the map that survived it were all Labour.
"Peter Wilby is fun. Rather than going for jokey people, jokes should be coming out of the intelligent, dispassionate view of life in its pieces. But Rory Bremner is good.
"Both John and Peter have raised the quality and now they have the resources, the New Statesman has made a fantastic 'leap forward' and has a chance to show off."
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