Stephen Glover: Two newspapers, two distinct readerships

Media Studies: I read one edition of <i>i</i> exhaustively having first filleted The Independent, and had little sense of d&#233;j&#224; vu

Monday 01 November 2010 01:00

Before the launch of i last Tuesday, there were two commonly expressed anxieties. One was that the new newspaper, drawing as it does on The Independent's store of journalism, might "cannibalise" some of its parent's readership. The other was that the "time poor" and irregular newspaper readers at whom the new title is aimed might not want to nip into a newsagent to shell out their 20p.

These are early days, of course, but my first impression is that i is unlikely to skim many readers away from its parent. It is weird, but I read one edition of i exhaustively having first filleted The Independent, and had little sense of déjà vu. They come across as two separate newspapers. This is partly because the presentation and arrangement of pieces in each title is so different, partly because most of the columns in The Independent do not appear in i, and partly because longer stories in the former are so truncated in the latter as to appear almost unrecognisable.

Despite the shared store of journalism, these newspapers are rather ingeniously pitching themselves at two distinct readerships, and I should be surprised if the sales of The Independent fell off very much. The question then is whether there are enough people not in the habit of reading newspapers who will make the effort to pop into a newsagent. It can certainly be argued that at 20 pence i represents outstanding value for money.

The countervailing argument is that the sort of people who do not regularly buy newspapers are bombarded with giveaways in the street, such as Metro and, in the capital, the London Evening Standard, which is an unusually superior free newspaper. (Like The Independent, it is owned by Alexander Lebedev.) Will enough people pay 20p for i? Obviously no one knows the answer, though sales of the new title in its first week are reported to be good.

Journalistically i is strong – most journalists I have spoken to admire it – and may well be thought by many to be worth 20p. Incidentally, it would benefit from a leader, which would make it seem more like a "normal" newspaper, and differentiate it more from the editorial-less, and rather soulless, Metro. An extra column would have the same effect without, I suspect, contributing to the problem of cannibalism that seems to have been avoided.

But the success of i is about more than the quality of its journalism. If the new title is going to prosper, it will need a lot of sustained, focused promotion and marketing. My experience has been that some newsagents are not presenting it well, and a few have not heard of it. Its launch has passed some readers by. Associated Newspapers (part of the Daily Mail Group) struggled long and hard to make Metro profitable, and the same sort of relentless and, I fear, costly slog will be necessary for i to find its audience.

Prospect of a rightwards lurch

A new editor of the left-leaning monthly Prospect was unveiled last week to replace David Goodhart. Bronwen Maddox, chief foreign commentator of The Times, will also be the magazine's chief executive. She started her career as a banker, and was a junior member of the team at Charterhouse Bank which raised £18 million to launch The Independent. Being of the centre-right, Ms Maddox might be thought an odd choice to edit a centre-left magazine.

Mr Goodhart, of whom I suspect few people have heard, is Prospect's hero. When he left a secure job on the Financial Times in 1995 to found the magazine, most observers, recalling the demise of earlier intellectual monthlies, prophesied it would founder. It nearly did, but survived with financial backing from Derek Coombs, a wealthy former Tory MP. With his help Mr Goodhart kept it going, and Prospect slowly strengthened. Its sales stand at an all-time high of around 30,000.

Now new multi-millionaire backers may want to take it rightwards. Actually Prospect has never been narrowly of the left, as Mr Goodhart has a broad and contrarian mind. But I would be wary of a lurch to the right in view of the magazine's readership, as well as the presence of the excellent monthly Standpoint as a standard bearer of the right. Mr Goodhart is kicking himself (or being kicked?) upstairs to become editor-at-large. For creating a thoughtful, serious and seldom boring magazine in the face of so many obstacles, he deserves boundless praise.

Acting editors

Conrad Black, former proprietor of The Daily Telegraph, is out of clink and has been enjoying his freedom. One of his remarks in particular made me sit up. He recalled Vere Rothermere, late proprietor of the Daily Mail group, telling him after poaching an editor from the Telegraph: "They are actors. . . They perform on our stages, but they don't give a damn about us – and will go elsewhere tomorrow for an extra farthing a week." Could Lord Rothermere, so loyally served by David English and then Paul Dacre, really have said this? The poached ex-Telegraph editor would be Sir Max Hastings, who joined the Mail group in 1995. It is a very great libel against Sir Max to allege that he would leave one newspaper for another for "an extra farthing".

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