Stephen Glover: A vicious press war with no real victors

In the London freesheet war between Rupert Murdoch and Associated Newspapers, I used to think that Associated would blink first. Murdoch's group, News International, is the largest national newspaper publisher in this country. Behind it stand international assets which dwarf those of the Daily Mail and General Trust, which owns Associated. Murdoch is the toughest of the tough.

And yet the supposedly invincible media mogul has raised the white flag. He is closing thelondonpaper. In my view, of course, he should never have launched it in the first place. It was an expensive distraction that contributed little or nothing to good journalism. But he believed in it. He was prepared to absorb significant losses to open up an opportunity in the London afternoon market, and to weaken Associated's London paper, the Evening Standard. Now he has been forced to throw his baby overboard.



This is a humiliation, though perhaps not the greatest one he has ever suffered. He would not have closed the paper unless he had to. His decision can only be understood in the context of News International's general predicament. The company, which in its heyday was a money-making machine, is probably not even breaking even.



We know that The Times and The Sunday Times lost £51.3m in the year to 29 June 2008, and that Murdoch's other national titles, The Sun and the News of the World made a profit of only £55.1m over the same period. All these figures are likely to have worsened as the advertising recession has deepened. Then there are the losses of £12.9m on thelondonpaper in the twelve months to 29 June 2008, on top of the £16.8m it lost in the previous ten months after its launch in September 2006.



The plain fact is that, with News International in the state it is, Murdoch could not afford to continue bankrolling a freesheet that had no prospects of ever making a profit. Yet only a year ago, his son James, chairman of News International, resisted overtures from Associated, which had hoped to broker some sort of peace deal involving its own competing afternoon freesheet, London Lite.



Since then trading conditions have worsened at News International, as they have throughout the Murdoch media empire, which recently announced record losses of £3.4bn (which admittedly included some extraordinary items) in the 12 months to June 2009. The judgement of Murdoch, who is now 78, is being questioned by investors and others after he paid $5bn for The Wall Street Journal in August 2007 – a few months before the credit crunch began. The title is now haemorrhaging tens of millions of dollars.



All this helps to explain Rupert Murdoch's recent announcement that his newspapers will soon start charging for online access. More revenue is desperately needed. Anyone who cares about the future of newspapers must hope he will succeed, but there are good reasons for doubting that he will – not least, the apparent reluctance of other publishers to follow suit in charging, and the certainty that the publicly funded (and extremely effective) BBC website will not.



Murdoch is not yet in the position he was in 1991, when he nearly lost control of his company because it could not immediately repay a tiny debt, but these are difficult times, particularly for his newspapers. As I have suggested before, few men aged 78 are intellectually absolutely on top of their game, and events are moving faster in the media world than ever before. The closure of thelondonpaper may turn out to be the first episode of a much bigger drama.



If Rupert Murdoch has suffered a setback, what of Associated/Daily Mail and General Trust? I suspect its senior executives can scarcely believe their luck. They may have hoped, but can hardly have expected, that Murdoch would capitulate first.



They now have a ticklish problem – whether to close London Lite, which was launched as a spoiler to thelondonpaper. It has racked up considerable losses, though not as great as News International's, and even as the sole afternoon freesheet would be unlikely to make any money with the advertising market as it is. The logic is probably to close it. There is, however, another consideration which cuts both ways. With thelondonpaper out of the picture, the pressure on the paid-for Evening Standard diminishes. If London Lite closed, the Standard would be in a still stronger position.



In January Daily Mail and General Trust sold 75.1 per cent of the loss-making Standard to Alexander Lebedev for a nominal sum, retaining 24.9 per cent. The company may now be wondering whether that sale was such a good idea after all. On the other hand, owning a quarter of an Evening Standard unencumbered by any freesheet competitors would not be a terrible outcome.



This tired hyperbole is bringing tears to my eyes



All of us will have a long list of the ill-effects of the recession, as well as perhaps a few good ones. Admittedly low on the bad list, but extremely irritating nonetheless, is the widespread, almost manic use in the media of the adjective "eye- watering".



No doubt a few things were "eye-watering" before the recession but now the term is so rampant that every other serviceable adjective has been binned. For some reason the term is almost exclusively applied to financial shocks or excesses. It is tempting to blame Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, as the prime mover of the trend. Many pieces of bad news he has announced – and there have been a few – have been "eye-watering". Mr Peston's eyes presumably resemble a small waterfall, and he must use up a box of tissues every day.



Even, or perhaps especially, the so-called quality papers have fallen victim to the curse. Last week the caption on a front-page picture in The Daily Telegraph of John Cleese and his former wife described the divorce settlement made by him to her as "eye-watering". In The Guardian the losses of thelondonpaper were described as "eye-watering" as, in another article, were the costs of medical care in the United States. Last Friday's Times wrote about "eye-watering" bonus deals, while The Sunday Times of 16 August mentioned President Obama's "eye-watering deficit".



And so on. Without even trying I come across examples in newspapers and on radio and television every day. If the term ever meant anything at all – is it noticeably good or bad to have one's eyes watered? – it has now become empty through repetition. Why not "grotesque" or "excessive" or "unwarranted" bonuses rather than "eye-watering" ones? Why not describe Obama's deficit as "ruinous" or "unprecedented"? Let me make this appeal to fellow hacks. Anything but eye-watering!

scmgox@aol.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Manchester - Urgent Requirement!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Management Accountant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for a independently owne...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Management Accountant

£17 - £20 per hour: Sauce Recruitment: Working for a independently owned and c...

Guru Careers: Mac Operator / Artworker

£Negotiable (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Mac Operator / Artworker to ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness