Stephen Glover: These explosive exchanges will not solve the deeper problems of the British press
Monday 14 December 2009
Last Tuesday's Daily Telegraph ran a long and exceptionally savage attack on The Guardian. There was little, if anything, new in the piece, which appeared in the business pages. It skilfully gathered together the known facts: looming redundancies, losses of £100,000 a day on The Guardian and The Observer, and a cash pile melting at an alarming rate.
Such demolition jobs by one title on another are not unknown. The Telegraph once had a go at this newspaper after I had annoyed it in some minor way. Last week's fusillade was provoked by a piece in The Observer by Peter Preston which suggested that The Daily Telegraph has fared worse than any other quality newspaper over the past 40 years. In that period the paper's sales have fallen from nearly 1.4 million to around 750,000.
This article was about as fair as the Telegraph's assault on The Guardian. It was difficult to disagree with either, though both were tendentious. One interesting question is why Mr Preston, a former editor of The Guardian, should have written such an explosive piece. I would not describe him as a born controversialist, but he is as clever as a sackful of monkeys, and should have foreseen a retaliatory strike whose main casualty would be Alan Rusbridger, his successor as editor. The Telegraph suggested that Mr Rusbridger has presided over a shambles.
Perhaps, though, its management should not have taken such umbrage. After all, it has been running the paper for just over five years, while the long period of decline identified by Mr Preston stretches back nearly 40 years. Indeed, one could reasonably argue that the Telegraph's comparatively new owners, the Barclay brothers, and its management are attempting to grapple with problems that have bedevilled the paper for several decades.
Its old constituency – the respectable, conservative but not always highly educated middle-classes with strong imperial sympathies or connections – has been inexorably shrinking, and the paper has had only limited success in cultivating new readers. Admittedly the Daily Express has witnessed an even more dramatic contraction of its readership. The Daily Mail, on the other hand, adapted more successfully during the 1970s to rapid sociological change, perhaps most notably by appealing to women.
I have mentioned before how the Barclays esteem the Daily Mail above all other newspapers, and described how they set about not exactly turning the Telegraph into the Mail, but emulating it in all sorts of ways. Readers will recall how my hero Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Media Group, was the first Mail fish to be landed, followed by a succession of executives, reporters and columnists pulled from the same pond. The new editor of The Daily Telegraph and the editor of its Sunday sister are both ex-Mail men.
Meanwhile there has been a steady stream travelling in the opposite direction, the latest of whom is Andrew Pierce, an assistant editor and well-known writer on the Telegraph, whose defection to the Mail was announced last week. Perhaps he has concluded that if he is going to work for the Mail he might as well be on the real one. The interesting thing is that while the exodus of Mail executives and writers to the Telegraph has made that paper more like its mid-market rival, the equally strong reverse process has had no discernible effect. The Mail goes on being itself while the Telegraph becomes increasingly like the Mail.
Few would dispute that its news team, revitalised by new blood from the Mail, handled the coverage of the MPs' expenses scandal outstandingly well, though unfortunately there has been no enduring pick-up in sales. But news alone does not sell a modern newspaper, and Peter Preston was surely right in his piece to suggest that a large part of the Mail's success is down to its features, where the Telegraph remains rather weak.
But isn't there a deeper point? I know of no newspaper which has prospered by aping another. I am hopeful that by making this friendly point I won't attract the wrath of the Telegraph's management. I also freely admit that I don't have an alternative strategy. I am just sure that The Daily Telegraph is not going to solve its historic difficulties by becoming ever more like the Mail. It won't beat that newspaper at its own game. Somewhere in its own culture lie the seeds of growth and renewal.
A glossy that undermines the FT's stand against excess
The Financial Times presents itself as the decent face of capitalism. It has long regarded the Tories with suspicion, though will presumably endorse them at the next general election, albeit with a certain amount of tut-tutting. During the hullabaloo about bankers' bonuses, it has sided with the Government against excess. Its editorials and columnists exude a virtuous, high-minded air.
So it is a great shock when on a Friday once in a while an appalling supplement called "How to Spend It" tumbles out of my FT. This is the most vulgar title of any magazine in existence.
Even after six quarters of recession this ghastly glossy glides on regardless, with its advertisements for luxurious watches, expensive jewellery, fine claret and gizmos.
In last week's issue there were articles about ski chalets, watches and cigars. One might be forgiving if there were the slightest evidence of wit, but the whole thing is carried off without any sense of irony.
Whereas the FT itself is aimed at the mandarin at his desk in the Treasury, or perhaps the hard-pressed executive on the morning flight to Frankfurt, "How to Spend It" is evidently intended for the molls of hedge-fund kings or footballers earning £100,000 a week. I realise The Financial Times is expected to turn a profit, but never was there a colour supplement so at odds with the values its parent newspaper espouses.
While on the subject of the FT, I should note that it had an average British and Irish sale of 119,868 last month, a significant fall of 16.34 per cent from November 2008, though I don't suppose this has anything to do with "How to Spend It".
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