Stephen Glover On The Press

Are the days of the newspaper really numbered? I don't think so

I am as enthusiastic as the next man about the internet, possibly more so, but all this apocalyptic talk about the imminent demise of newspapers is beginning to get me down. Of course I cannot prove that papers will be around in 20 years, any more than the soothsayers can prove that they will not be, so one is reduced to making a rather lame appeal to common sense. Is it really likely that the ingrained habit of buying a daily newspaper - still carried out by more than 12 million people in this country - will disappear in so short a period of time?

If you cannot accept that, at least take a fair look at the statistics. It is often stated bluntly that newspaper circulation is in free fall. Certainly most newspapers (this one happens to be an exception) are selling fewer copies than they were two or three years ago. But if one goes back 10 or 20 years the comparison is not totally bleak.

Let us set aside the fact that the way in which newspaper circulation is calculated has slightly changed over the years. Twenty years ago - I am looking at the figures for February 1986 - the three daily red-tops sold 8.6 million copies a day. In February 1996 the Daily Mirror, Sun and Daily Star had a combined daily circulation of 7.26 million copies. In February this year the sale was 5.6 million. That represents quite a decline, and one that was plainly underway before the internet could have had any effect. Over 20 years the Daily Mirror and the Daily Star have lost almost half their sales, and the Sun about a quarter.

In the middle market, the Daily Express has plummeted over the past 20 years, while the Daily Mail has risen from about 1.8 million copies a day in February 1986 to just over 2.4 million copies today. Nearly all that increase took place during the 1990s. The combined sale of these two titles has fallen from 3.69 million in 1986 to 3.27 million in 2006. The Daily Express has suffered a near catastrophe, while the Daily Mail has had an enormous boost.

The size of the so-called quality market has actually increased over the past 20 years. I am slightly cheating, though, because in February 1986 The Independent did not exist. The Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Guardian and the Financial Times together sold about 2.4 million copies. Ten years later that figure had risen to just over 2.7 million. In February this year these titles sold 2.66 million copies. This is a slightly dodgy figure, boosted by the increasing foreign sales of the Financial Times and, over the 20-year period, by the advent of The Independent. Certainly the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph have lost sales over 20 years, but not the Times. All in all, though, the quality market has not fared badly.

I do not want to be accused of offering a panglossian interpretation. Plainly a revolution is underway. People are turning more and more to the internet, and advertisers are recognising this. Last year, while most newspapers were experiencing a decline in advertising revenue, online advertising leapt by more than 50 per cent from its 2004 levels. It is likely to overtake national newspaper advertising this year or the next. As I wrote recently, newspapers will have to adjust themselves to a declining share of an expanding revenue base.

Millions of people will nonetheless go on reading newspapers - I promise. If they are to thrive, newspapers will have to adjust to the new economic climate in which they find themselves, and work out what they can do better than the internet.

At the same time they will have to produce better online versions of themselves. None of them, with the possible exception of the Guardian, has adapted particularly successfully to the internet because they have not properly grasped that a new medium needs a different sort of journalism.

But the older sort of journalism - printed on the marvellously convenient bundles of newsprint that you can take into the lavatory or on the train - will continue to appeal to millions of people. The future may look bleak for some individual titles but not for the whole industry. There is no cause for despair!

Shame on those who committed this unjustified act of intrusion

On 3 January, Katherine Ward jumped to her death from a hotel in South Kensington. She was a 52-year-old, American-born lawyer who, at the time of her death, worked for Rolls-Royce. A photographer called Jon Bushell took a picture of her as she fell. This was published by the Sun, the Times and the London Evening Standard.

Their defence, I am sure, would be that this was a news event, and it is the function of newspapers to report what happens. Ms Ward had chosen to commit suicide in public. Nonetheless, the majority of newspapers took a different view and decided, for reasons of taste, not to carry the picture.

A friend of Katherine Ward's called Marina Palomba complained to the Press Complaints Commission, arguing that Clause 5 of the code (intrusion into grief and shock) had been breached. Her complaint was directed at the Evening Standard. It had named Ms Ward while carrying the picture of her falling to her death, circling her body. Ms Palomba was upset that the paper should have run the photograph before checking whether the family had been informed about the incident.

On Friday the Press Complaints Commission delivered its judgment. Ms Palombo's complaint was not upheld. The PCC did not believe that Clause 5 had been breached. It added that "matters of taste and decency fall outside the terms of the code of practice". The PCC was concerned, however, that the Evening Standard had made no effort to confirm that Ms Ward's family had been informed of her death. As it happens, they live in America, and could not have seen the paper, but the Standard could not have been certain that this was the case.

What are we to make of all this? Ms Palombo and other friends of Ms Ward clearly regard this as another PCC stitch-up. She remarks bitingly that between January and September 2005 the PCC received 2,719 complaints, of which only five were upheld. Yet it seems arguable that on a strict interpretation Clause 5 was not breached, though it was surely reckless to run the picture without being certain that the family knew. Matters of taste and decency apparently do fall outside the PCC's remit.

Nonetheless, I am certain that most decent people would agree that the three newspapers were wrong to carry this photograph. When I saw it in the Times, my blood froze; there was no conceivable public interest in carrying it. By contrast, a defence might be made of those newspapers which controversially ran an appalling photograph of a man jumping from one of the towers of the World Trade Center because it highlighted an act of terrorism.

Ms Ward's death highlighted nothing, save her own despair. The picture was not so much an intrusion into her friends', or even her family's grief, as into her private world. We should be allowed to die in peace. The newspapers that elected not to publish this photograph showed much more human feeling than the three that did.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?