Almost exactly a year after resigning the editorial chair at The Daily Telegraph, Martin Newland returns to the defence of the broadsheet format. In the Guardian’s On the press column he he questions whether The Independent is a “quality” newspaper, and is not much kinder about The Times.
Is it not strange that when the Daily Mail treats us to an editorialised front-page headline the industry cognoscenti roll their eyes at the excesses of the “middle market” press, but when the Indy does the same it is treated as a brilliant, evolutionary step in the future of quality newspaper journalism?
The industry never had a proper discussion, post-tabloidisation, about quality journalism. It may well be that changing readership patterns and the digital age are redefining what is a quality newspaper, but if the confirmation of reader prejudices and the editorialising of headlines is now OK for the qualities, what are we doing excluding the middle market from the quality stable?
The tone and the tricks are the same, but the Indy is allowed to cover itself with a veneer of respectability that somehow marks it out as a “quality”. When you consider the Mail sells nearly 10 times as many copies as the Indy, the editorial distinction becomes all the more bogus.
The column is illustrated by two Indy front pages. One is a picture of Tony Blair with a poppy wreath and these words reversed out of black: “As Tony Blair laid a wreath at the Cenotaph, four more British soldiers laid down their lives in a wretched, futile war.” The other is a full page close cropped mug-shot of George W. Bush and the words: “IT’S THE WAR STUPID Midterm Election Special.
These illustrate the Indy’s use of the tabloid techniques but the content is very different to the celeb diet of the Sun. So there seem to be three issues, editorialising the news, content and tabloid presentation. On two of the three The Independent is following the path of the redtops.
When The Times was producing both broadsheet and tabloid editions there were obvious differences in treatment and content of stories. The Times has over the years moved from its lofty “paper of record” position and frequently seems to be in danger of colliding with the mid-market Daily Mail.
Newland, whose article should be read in full, argues that “The Times, the Indy and, to a lesser extent the Telegraph, are all eyeing the Mail’s market… The rush by the qualities for middle-market success could thus end up with a kind of reverse takeover, with the Mail emerging as the country’s best-selling quality newspaper.”
My feeling is that overall content still makes The Independent a quality paper and that the two largest selling papers in the sector (Times 667,243 sales, and Telegraph 899,767, both without bulks for the April-September period this year) are more likely to need classifying as middle market as they struggle to stem circulation losses.
Newland has started a fascinating debate.