Stephen Glover on The Press: A triumph? A disappointment? So far, it's somewhere in between
Monday 19 September 2005
The only new newspaper design that I have unequivocally liked was that of The Independent in October 1986. I love it still and have a front page from the first issue hanging on a wall. The Guardian re-launch in 1988 - a reaction to The Independent's roaring success - seemed to me a great disappointment. I remember Nick Garland, then The Independent's cartoonist, saying that The Guardian had made a historic mistake. We all more or less thought that. And yet, over the years, I grew almost to love its new design, though one couldn't say the same about the content.
So in discussing The Guardian's re-launch as a so-called Berliner, or mid-sized format, we should be humble. I will probably change my mind. I already have several times. At 7.30am last Monday morning I hated it. By about 11am it had grown on me a little, and by the following morning, when someone rang me up from Press Gazette, I really rather liked it. Since then, doubts have crept back, though I still have more positive feelings about it than I did at first. The chances are that, as time goes on, I will like it more. And it is also almost certain that it will improve, as the 1988 re-design unquestionably did.
At the moment it is a designer's paper. There are some over fussy touches - occasional coloured headlines that suggest a magazine; huge inverted commas hung in white space - which will surely go as the hurly-burly of daily journalism asserts itself. The rigidity of a design template is especially evident on the front page, which is the weakest part of the paper. At the bottom of the page there are five short stories, identical in length and presentation, referring to longer inside pieces. An item called Column Five also restricts the rest of the page, so that the fluid space, for the main story and a photograph, is very limited. Quite soon there will be an important news event, and Column Five and the pieces at the bottom will have to be junked - let's hope forever. I don't much like the masthead or the overlarge puff boxes above it, which give the front page too soft an impact. I can see that these puffs are there to entice the reader, since with the paper folded on the newsstand (unlike the smaller tabloid) only one story is visible above the fold.
In that sense the Berliner format carries a problem. But I don't agree with those who say that it can barely be differentiated from a tabloid. On a full page there is scope for several stories. (But sometimes a news feature is run over a whole page, simply because the space is there, though it could easily be run at half the length.) Some inside pages look handsome. The sports pages are particularly fine, and the comment pages work well. But the highly effective G2 tabloid section has been reduced to magazine size, and no longer begins with a long feature. The argument seems to be, as Glamour magazine has shown, that young readers like a smaller format for featurey pieces. I wonder. The new G2 feels like an afterthought, rather than the forum for substantial pieces.
We could analyse the new design of The Guardian until the cows come home. Let's think about content. In various interviews the paper's editor, Alan Rusbridger, has cited the inclusion of columnists Simon Jenkins and Max Hastings as evidence that The Guardian is becoming politically more broad-based. He has also spoken of the paper becoming more centrist, the implication being that it might fill some of the Establishment territory vacated by the increasingly dumbed-down Times. (Here I should declare an interest, being involved with a group of people eyeing up the same terrain.) I must say that I cannot see that The Guardian's journalism has yet shifted very far in the direction Mr Rusbridger says he wants to go: Sir Simon is only one new voice, and Sir Max has been setting out his wares for many months in The Guardian. More importantly, perhaps, the new design seems calculated to appeal to young readers rather than the fortysomethings and fiftysomethings, many of them male, who still comprise the Establishment. This is no criticism of The Guardian, only a feeling that in tone and appearance the new paper does not reflect the high seriousness of, say, El Pais in Spain or Le Monde in France.
My feeling is that this is still the familiar Guardian we love or hate, dressed up in new clothes, some of which are rather fetching, others of which are less so. Overall, it is less brilliant than I had expected, and even hoped, that it would be. My guess is that it will win a few new young readers, who may find the new paper stylish and less intimidating than the old Guardian, but I don't see it becoming the new Times. How many sales the paper will add, God alone knows. At the launch party last Wednesday, Liz Forgan, chairwoman of the Scott Trust, which owns The Guardian, told me that it would not matter very much if there were no circulation gain. In a sense, she is right: The Guardian does not live by the same commercial rules that govern the rest of Fleet Street. But she and Mr Rusbridger and the others will look pretty silly if in three months' time, having shelled out £80m, the paper is back to the 27-year low point where it resided before its re-launch. On the other hand, if The Guardian can put on 5 or 10 per cent in circulation, let alone more, they will be able to point to a revival. In this sense the figures will matter far more than anything that I or a dozen other media pundits may say now.
Telegraph editor has Californian accent
The Daily Telegraph has been unable to lure Jon Steafal away from the Daily Mail to be its deputy editor, as I thought would be the case. Mr Steafal has been made co-deputy editor of the Mail . The Telegraph has decided to appoint Neil Darbyshire, a long-time servant of the paper, and Will Lewis, its new city editor, as joint deputy editors.
Students of these matters should study the press release circulated by the PR firm Brown Lloyd James. Martin Newland, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, was miffed that it was the paper's chief executive, Murdoch MacLennan, rather than himself, who approached Mr Steafal. When that deal fell through, he asked to be able to act as master of his own ship. The press release duly accords Mr Newland the central role in the new dispensations. "The editor of The Daily Telegraph is delighted to announce" and "Mr Newland today announced" - and so forth.
But the editor of The Telegraph should not allow PR men to put words in his mouth that make him sound like a Californian management trainee. He is quoted as saying: "In Will, we have a true innovator with an eye for detail and structural change, attributes that will help me drive development at the title." Ugh!
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