Readers want war worries discussed

A boost for liberal broadsheets reflects people's uncertainty about war
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The Independent Online

It's not often that a month's circulation figures tell you as much about the nation as they do about the fortunes of individual newspapers. But the figures from the last extraordinary month do exactly that. Naturally enough, most titles have recorded increases. Those first unforgettable images from New York started the surge in newspaper sales; and the public's appetite for news and analysis remained strong for the remainder of the month. Perhaps now, more than a decade of scaremongering that newspapers would lose out to television and the internet, particularly in times of crisis, can officially be laid to rest.

But look again at those newspaper sales figures. Among the broadsheets, The Independent and The Guardian had huge rises, while The Times and especially The Daily Telegraph had much smaller percentage increases. Why? The answer may well lie in the opinion pages. The Independent and The Guardian have consistently offered a broad cross-section of views, while The Times and the Telegraph have largely offered unquestioning support of the war. What readers clearly wanted over the past month was a mirror of their own uncertainty in an unprecedentedly ill-defined conflict where words such as "war" were themselves being redefined.

Yet, at the Telegraph, the paper's defence editor Sir John Keegan, a favoured son of the military, has led the overwhelmingly pro-war commentaries; at The Times, while Simon Jenkins has at least pointed out that civilian casualties are inevitable, William Rees-Mogg has decided he knows the views of the entire British population, stating: "The British stand behind the Prime Minister in his determination... to see the issue to a satisfactory conclusion." Few politicians could have matched the euphemistic nature of that sentence. The Guardian, meanwhile, has had Imran Khan and Rana Kabbani in the anti-camp; and The Independent has balanced pro-war commentaries with, among others, Tariq Ali and Mark Steel.

Among the red-tops, The Sun must be rueing the nervousness that had it putting celebrity coverage on its front pages so early in the war against terror, while The Mirror has rightly drawn comparisons with its great days with up to 15 pages a day of war coverage. The Mirror put on nearly 50,000 readers last month. The Sun lost more than 30,000.

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