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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
business
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
News
i100
Sport
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Lily James in ‘Cinderella’
film
  • Get to the point
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: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss