Media Viewpoint: Small gesture to young readers

ANOTHER broadsheet newspaper has fallen by the tabloid wayside. The Sunday Express, once regarded as Lord Beaverbrook's last great profitable legacy, has been redesigned as a 'compact'.

In the Seventies, it had a weekly circulation of about four million and a highly envied profit of pounds 4m. Its readers were the loyal seventh-day followers of the Daily Express, with Sir Max Aitken, Beaverbrook's son, piloting the newspapers through the wartime exploits of RAF heroes or the life- and-death manoeuvres of Cornish lifeboatmen.

The broadsheet format worked with a Century Schoolbook headline typeface and large photographs or illustrations of blazing Lancaster bombers on their way home from Germany. Sport was a big issue, and that can be properly displayed only in broadsheet form. Similarly, news flourished in the wide open canyons provided by the large format.

But all that flies in the face of the recidivist Fleet Street convention that if your readership is ageing - or literally dying, as the Sunday Express's undoubtedly was and is - then a switch to tabloid will attract new, younger readers with more spending power, which in turn will bring in more advertising.

So what does the 'compact' offer in presentation or display? The small masthead emphasises EXPRESS; Sunday is almost an afterthought. Yes, the crusader is still there. The 'promo' panel at the top is dominant.

The result is a cramped display with three very short stories, one of which is turned to page two, and a static picture of the troubled Prince of Wales. The use of a lower-case main or 'splash' headline is intended to reaffirm the 'quality' element. Pages two and three have more lines or rules on them than Clapham Junction. The main typeface is now Nova, similar to the old Century but with a more condensed feel to it.

Sales have increased under the editorship of Eve Pollard. The new-look paper is much closer to the daily version, edited by her husband, Sir Nicholas Lloyd. Now it is up to the older readers to decide whether a tabloid can equate with quality, not vulgarity. The battle for the Sunday middle ground has heated up, with five tabloids to choose from.

The writer is Associate Editor (Design) of the 'Independent'.

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