Stephen Glover: A new dawn for Rupert Murdoch. But did The Sun shine on Sunday?
Media Studies: You wouldn't feel grubby reading this, though you might be a bit bored
Monday 27 February 2012
Rupert Murdoch's new paper is not even called The Sun on Sunday. It is the Sunday edition of The Sun. That tells us all we need to know. This title is not simply a refashioned News of the World rising from the ashes.
For one thing, it looks like The Sun, albeit with a different cast of columnists from the Monday to Saturday version, and even more football coverage. For another, it doesn't have any of the filthy stories associated with the News of the World. You wouldn't feel slightly grubby to be caught reading this, though you might be a bit bored. It is more well-behaved not only than the deceased Sunday red-top but also the weekday Sun. The Page 3 girl demurely covers her breasts, and they have even found a columnar berth for the Archbishop of York.
So how will it do? The News of the World sold 2.67 million copies in its final days. Half its buyers have defected to rival tabloids, and the other half have stopped buying newspapers. If Mr Murdoch's intention is to lure back most of this second group, I fear he may be disappointed, partly because of the absence of dirt, and partly because there aren't, so far at least, any blockbuster scoops. Some of the first group may be tempted back, but the Sunday edition of The Sun doesn't appear to be offering much that its red-top rivals aren't.
For these reasons I would be surprised if the new paper sold as many copies as some predict, though a 50p cover price will boost readership for as long as it can be maintained. One pundit suggested yesterday that Mr Murdoch would be unhappy if circulation bottomed out at less than 2.5 million. There seems to be a feeling that, as the Monday to Saturday Sun sells not very far short of a daily average of 3 million copies, its Sunday edition will do as well almost without trying. This ignores the reality that most readers like a change on the Sabbath, and do not automatically buy the Sunday version of their weekday "read".
But it may not matter to Mr Murdoch if the paper settles down with a smaller circulation than many are forecasting. It has taken on a few well-paid columnists and writers, and only 20 or so extra journalists will be required to produce it. The News of the World, by contrast, employed 283 people, of whom 160 were journalists. In its last days it more or else broke even. With its much lower cost-base, the Sunday edition of The Sun could be profitable at a significantly smaller circulation, the more so if it increased its cover price to 75p.
In other words, Rupert Murdoch has not bet the News Corp farm on launching this newspaper. It amounts to little more than a defiant gesture. He is back in the Sunday market, and has publicly reaffirmed his support for The Sun after nine of its journalists had been arrested. The paper is highly competent, as you would expect, but it is not the product of any radical new thinking, as took place before Mr Murdoch relaunched The Sun as a tabloid in 1969.
Yesterday's Sunday Times ran the famous picture of a youngish Rupert Murdoch holding aloft the first edition of his Sun alongside a photograph of the 80-year-old media tycoon doing the same with his paper on Saturday evening. The Sun has been revolutionary in its influence on our culture and other titles. The new paper will be a footnote. The Sun was the brightest star in his firmament. The Sunday edition of the paper is a comparatively insignificant event at the outer rim of an empire over which he cannot long preside.
Colvin was a great war correspondent but don't forget who employed her
The tragic death of Marie Colvin has stirred a thousand pens into action, and rightly so. David Cameron and Ed Miliband praised her in the Commons. After months during which newspapers and journalists have been portrayed in unflattering terms, here was a brave and resourceful reporter who had devoted her life to writing about the horrors of war. Despite the awfulness of what had happened, many journalists felt a little better about their trade.
There was, however, little reflection on one interesting fact. Throughout her entire newspaper career in Britain lasting more than 25 years, Marie Colvin worked for one title, The Sunday Times, which is owned by the much hated Rupert Murdoch. The woman who has been compared to the legendary Martha Gellhorn, and described as the best war correspondent of her generation, was a Murdoch journalist. In the course of an article last week attacking the press tycoon, The Guardian's Polly Toynbee lavished praise on the dead journalist without registering the irony that Ms Colvin's employer was the butt of her piece.
Inveterate Murdoch-haters cannot have it both ways. They cannot depict him as an unremitting force for evil while lauding a reporter who worked for him for a quarter of a century, succoured, encouraged and published by one of his newspapers.
The message is in the medium
WPP is by far the most powerful player in British advertising, and its chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, is hailed as a business genius. So I was fascinated to receive a video clip of an interview given by Sir Martin at a recent conference at Miami Beach organised by the National Association of Television Program Executives (Natpe).
Having stressed that WPP has "a responsibility to our clients" in a "fragmented" media, he says that "it is very important that we [ie WPP] walk with the media owners at places like Natpe to get them to understand what our clients' needs are... and they develop content with us to match those needs."
What Sir Martin seems to be saying is that advertisers should have a significant say in the content of the media in which they operate. In the case of newspapers, this would mean advertisers could influence articles, presumably without readers being aware. Is this nightmare far-fetched? I don't think so. The terrible truth is that it is already happening.
Why so modest, Sir Max?
From time to time Sir Max Hastings, journalist and author, graces the pages of The New York Review of Books. In common with other contributors, he has a short biography on the "contents" page. The current edition mentions he has edited the Daily Telegraph and London Evening Standard. However, there is no reference to Max's column in the Daily Mail, which must supply the greater part of his income. I am certain it is only modesty that precludes him from mentioning to the Review's elevated, leftwardly inclined readers his association with the right-wing tabloid. But I suggest that in future he should come clean.
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