New Statesman: 'Staggers' goes glossy? Not exactly

The 'New Statesman' is smartening up, and that includes glossy covers. That doesn't mean it's lowering its intellectual tone, however, as the long-running weekly magazine's new editor John Kampfner is keen to point out to Ian Burrell

At the request of The Independent's photographer, John Kampfner squats beneath some classic New Statesman cartoons that are hung in the boardroom of the 92-year-old periodical. As he bends his knees he strikes a pose that a yoga teacher might recognise as being half way towards Utkatasana (posture of the powerful and mighty). Only he has something of a grimace on his face.

"I've done my ACL," the new New Statesman editor says blokeishly, by way of explaining his grimace. Kampfner, it turns out, snapped his anterior cruciate ligament while playing football at Hampden Park in July.

Playing at the Scottish national stadium is not such a big deal these days, of course, and Kampfner was actually playing seven-a-side for a team of journos and politicos, though he did at least manage to imitate Scotland's players by departing the field in a state of acute distress.

During this interview to mark his first six months at the helm of Britain's most influential left-leaning magazine, the strain placed on his ailing knee is not the only moment he feels pain. Kampfner literally puts his head in his hands at one point as he recalls a bungled attempt at a dramatic cover story in June on the difficulties of suing tobacco companies over the health effects of smoking.

Amid the rest of the gloss and glamour on the newsstand that week, the New Statesman went with a picture of a giant cigarette butt being stubbed out. On a black background.

"I thought it was quite original and arresting at the time," says Kampfner. "I look back at it now and think if I was buying some wine gums and had 10 seconds to choose something to read I would not have alighted on that magazine."

While that cover causes Kampfner some discomfort, it would not be everyone's choice of his worst mistake of his fledgling editorship. The BBC chairman Michael Grade and the corporation's director general Mark Thompson would certainly cite his front-page article of early last month. That was a piece which caused uproar with its claims not just that the BBC had become cowed in its journalism but also that the chairman had wanted the irascible Radio 4 Today programme presenter John Humphrys sacked.

Never in the post-Hutton era has the BBC responded so indignantly to criticism. In an email to staff, Thompson called Kampfner's assertions "false, and indeed, utter nonsense". Grade told MPs that he could "absolutely, categorically deny there was any truth in it whatsoever".

But Kampfner - who has stuck to his guns all along - maintains that his piece was long in the planning and thoroughly researched. The former political commentator for the Today programme says: "It's a story that has been gestating. A lot of people at the BBC, people I know, respect and have worked with, were talking to me post-Hutton about their concerns for a very long time.

"This was a piece I had been planning to write. This wasn't something that was done at the spur of the moment; it was something I knew the consequences of. I didn't go into it blindly."

His own journalism was "How can I put it? Very rigorous", he says. "I was very confident about the story being right before and during. The subsequent conversations I have had make me even more confident than I was then."

Kampfner asserts that, in spite of denials from the BBC, a "culture of safety first" has emerged at the corporation post-Hutton with "more and more layers of people overseeing issues and having reviews of coverage".

His motivation in writing the piece was not to simply raise the profile of his publication. "Why run with this story if it's just going to get me flak? What's in it for me?" he asks. "Thinking of a whacky, counter-intuitive idea and putting it on the cover just to be sensationalist is not what we are about. You might get an instant hit but you don't get sustained respect."

That said, the new NS editor has quickly come to realise the value of good marketing and the Staggers has appointed a marketing manager, Tim Moore, who is drawing up a campaign to broaden awareness of the title. "We haven't been hitting student unions. We haven't been hitting political people, the literary world," notes Kampfner.

Circulation is around 24,000, about a third of the right-wing Spectator. "It was a graph that was going down and went down a bit further and now it's started to go up" is how Kampfner describes his sales record so far. He says that the combined sale of The Guardian and The Independent (close to 700,000) suggests there is much potential for his magazine to expand.

He has already written a slogan - "Intelligence with Edge" - that captures the spirit of the Kampfner New Statesman and has been used in a couple of ads.

Distribution of the magazine will be overhauled, with deadlines brought forward so that more shops can stock it on Thursday morning. (It is currently available in only 10-20 per cent of outlets at that time.) It was Boris Johnson, editor of The Spectator, who prompted the idea for earlier deadlines when - as an old pal of Kampfner's - he guested as a New Statesman diarist earlier this summer. The Spectator also hits the streets on Thursdays.

Kampfner recalls: "I agreed to send Boris a proof of his copy and phoned him on his mobile at 4pm when we are at our most frenetic. He seemed to be out playing with the kids. I said, 'Boris, what are you doing?' He said, 'What are you doing working on Wednesday afternoon?'"

The Spectator, Kampfner learned, goes to bed at 2pm, compared with the Statesman's 7pm. As a result, the Speccie is much easier to find on Thursdays.

As well as being easier to buy, the Statesman will also look different in 2006. "We are going to go to glossier covers," says Kampfner. "That might sound very technical but I think it has an effect on people, in terms of it being the kind of magazine you want to curl up in front of a fire with on a winter's day or sit out in the garden with on a summer's day."

He is anxious that glossier paper doesn't translate as a "glossy" magazine. "As long as people don't think we have dumbed down or become poppy. We can be intellectually challenging but also visually appealing," he says.

Ultimately, though, Kampfner knows that redesigns and slogans are no substitute for the best marketing tool of all: good editorial. He has made a succession of appointments, most notably Rory Bremner as a columnist. Two more high-profile appointees will be named after Christmas.

Kampfner's predecessor, Peter Wilby, has been given a media column, while the editor's own replacement as NS political editor is the former Observer journalist Martin Bright, who has not hesitated to demolish skilfully what was left of David Blunkett's credibility and to undermine the myth of Ken Clarke as a caring politician.

Kampfner has run some daring and bold covers. He is particularly proud of the recent Guantanamo Bay cover story, written very elegantly by the human rights lawyer (and regular visitor to Camp X-Ray) Clive Stafford-Smith. "Here is a guy who's incredibly passionate and radical, writes very fluently and vividly about a burning subject, one which is rarely mentioned in the media - with the possible exception of your good selves - and yet he did it in a way which was incredibly engaging. It wasn't a thumping his fist on the table sort of journalism."

Other good sellers include an Israel "special" and a cover based on a list of Ten People to Change the World. Domestic cover stories generally tend to go down less well with readers, research has found.

John Pilger still has a large following and Kampfner feels vindicated in letting the veteran investigative journalist off the leash for the "provocative" cover "Blair's Bombs" two weeks after the 7 July attacks. "He made the case that was difficult to make at the time - that if you are going to carry out one of the most foolhardy acts of foreign policy of the past 50 years, then it will have consequences for your own people and their security."

The new editor followed this up the next week with a Union Jack cover and a piece by Tristram Hunt and Ekow Eshun on "A Country Worth Defending". Some NS diehards decried the cover as "cheap nationalism". But Kampfner says it is his job to challenge assumptions and has even commissioned right-wing historian Andrew Roberts to write a piece "Why Maggie was right to sink the Belgrano", which was flagged up on the magazine cover.

He refuses to see The Guardian's repositioning in the centre, away from what editor Alan Rusbridger has described as the "cul de sac" of its former leftist niche, as a sign that the New Statesman is becoming something of an anachronism.

"There are more people out there who are passionate about what is going on in the world, be it environment, be it poverty, be it development, be it race relations, than there are newspaper readers at the moment," he argues. "Offline media is struggling to retain the interest of people who are passionate about things."

Journalists, and their attitudes, can be a cause of this shortcoming, he thinks (particularly after recently reviewing Richard Ingrams's biography of campaigning reporter Paul Foot). "It made me think how few journalists are seriously passionate about what they do," he says. "It's not just a question of getting the story, getting plaudits, winning prizes and getting promotions. A story doesn't stop being a story once it has hit the front pages.

"If you are passionate about something it should really eat you up. Passion has become almost a dirty word. Journalists are now supposed to be a little bit aloof. I would venture to suggest that is misreading the popular mood."

The journalism he is seeking is "radical, edgy, no holds barred" and written in "a tone that doesn't drone, doesn't turn people off".

If Kampfner can find such a balance then he will have answered the question that is foremost in his mind. "How do you ensure that increasing numbers of people read the New Statesman not because they feel they ought to but because they really, really want to?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Biggins as Mrs Smee in Peter Pan
theatreHow do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick