Photo Trinity Mirror
Two significant things have happened lately in the newspaper world and I think they’re more related than people have assumed. First, the Independent has decided to start publishing online only. Second, we’re expecting the first issue of a new paper, the New Day, in less than a week.
So what’s going on?
First it’s important to deal with the Indie. I have to say I’m sad but not at all surprised. It’s been years since I wrote for it, partly because one of my commissioning editors was unbelievably rude (she had a reputation for telling everyone they couldn’t structure an article, that everything they’d written was unrelated and incoherent…then publishing anyway, which is what happened to me) and second because the absolute last time I wrote for them, they decided to cut their freelance rates without warning. There was no point in objecting, I was told, there were new people in charge.
That’s not how I do business. I took the loss and worked elsewhere. It’s not how anybody does business. It may have been unrepresentative and I have no idea how many sections of the paper were affected, but I wasn’t surprised to hear it was going.
It will be interesting to see whether the digital version is successful. Taking away the overhead of printing certainly sounds like a positive move (and following journalist cutbacks of 20% a few weeks ago I imagine my Guardian friends are watching this like the proverbial hawks) unless you’re employed by the printer; whether the brand is as easy to sustain without the print version as a flagship or even loss leader remains to be seen. The Daily Mail has done extraordinarily well on the Web, but would it work without that printed flagship?
My guess is that it wouldn’t work for people my age (50) but younger people won’t mind so much about the printed stuff – they’ve grown up with screens rather than learned them in adulthood. So it’s arguably an odd time for Trinity Mirror to be launching New Day, which emerges on the 29th.
This is where they miss the point and where there is a link between the two. The I won’t be a cut-down version of the Independent when it’s owned by Johnston Press, and especially when there is no Independent in hard copy form (even if it retained its ties, it’s going to be standalone as far as the hard copy buyer in the newsagent is concerned).
So New Day has an opportunity in appealing to time-poor people whose views don’t coincide with those of the relatively liberal Independent stable. At the moment, though, it’s aiming to be politically neutral and will not have a leader as such, but a selection of easy-to-digest news.
And this is where the real risk is going to emerge; never mind a new title, they’ve come and gone before and will continue to do so as the digital world makes further inroads. What’s new is that we’re all so used to the papers being so strident about their views (Guardian to the left, Telegraph to the right, Mail even further to the right and soforth) that something genuinely neutral could risk looking pretty bland by comparison. Oh, and did I mention this one won’t have a website so if you want it you’ll have to buy it? Or just log on to something else.
I wish the new launch nothing but well – why would anyone say otherwise? But they’re going to have to find an attention-grabber other than “neutral” to sell in the number they’ll need to make it sustainable.