Letter from the editor

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The Independent Online
A lot of readers have written over the Christmas break to express delight at the return of the one-section newspaper, which we have been obliged to produce due to the lack of holiday advertising. This tallies with a constant drip of letters during the rest of the year from people protesting about the usual two-section weekly paper, and the multi-section Saturday paper.

Well, here comes a confession: I too like single-section papers. If we had different printing presses (four-tower, in the jargon, not three-tower) and could expand the main broadsheet paper beyond 32 pages, then I would love to return to the purity of the single-section weekday paper. But we are limited in size and simply cannot, throughout the year, cram in everything that needs to be in a 32-page broadsheet ... as well as printing the advertising we need to stay in business. (Those readers who rather sweetly suggest dropping the adverts should be prepared to pay pounds 1 or more for their daily paper as a result.) Saturday papers are rather different. They are becoming more like Sunday ones and our research suggests that, while a minority want smaller papers, most people expect a multi-section weekend read.

Staring into the mirror - pudding-faced, hungover, pouchy-eyed and smeared with the fatty residues of self-indulgence - I can as usual at this time of year think of no Resolution which I have the faintest intention of keeping. So here are a few friendly suggestions for others. Tony Blair: to maintain a serious and unsmiling image at all times. The New Labour Government generally: to pick a fight with someone rich and powerful. Rupert Murdoch: to publicly apologise for being such a global bastard and retire to a monastery to contemplate his many sins. Damien Hirst: to hold an exhibition of graceful little landscapes in watercolours. Bill Gates: to try a pencil. Gordon Brown: to save Britain's free-admission galleries and museums. Oasis: to retire. The Teletubbies: to behave disgracefully at music-awards ceremonies, do a sponsorship deal with a cigarette manufacturer, storm out of a Newsnight interview, and then ... retire (to spend their ill-gotten gains on pink custard and ecstasy in a Hacienda-style mansion in Hertfordshire). I don't suppose any of the above will follow this well-meant advice. But it would cheer up 1998 if they did.

Surrounded by a grey ocean of newsprint over Christmas and New Year, it becomes increasingly clear that the news business is badly disorganised. Holidays are the time most people can spend maximum time reading papers; but there is generally a severe shortage of strong news stories just when people have time to enjoy them. What we need to do, clearly, is to arrange a better match between supply and the demands of news addicts. This could be done by storing particularly spicy news stories and releasing them much later, during December, July, August and at Easter. After all, if you are interested in a daring helicopter rescue, it isn't going to matter much whether you first find out about it now or in a few months' time, so long as you aren't last to find out. To make this work, interesting stories would be stored in sealed containers - to mature, like wine - and a committee of editors would meet before every holiday break to decide which should be released to cheer up readers. It seemed, however briefly, a brilliant idea. On the other hand, leafing through a wide selection of the festive press, it becomes quite apparent that's more or less what happens anyway.

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