Thursday, March 11, 2010

Talking Shop

with Andrew Cusack,

He flattered me the other day by sending a note asking which Italian papers I read daily...

I reply:


I hate to admit this to such a world-famous newspaper fan as yourself, but I actually don't read any Italian papers, except for the free ones that get left on the train.

Two reasons for this:

- am lazy.
- don't read enough Italian to make it worth the effort.

But when I lived in England (oh! dear me! how briefly and how much longed-for now!) I took the Telegraph nearly every day in the mournful hope that it would tidy itself up and become again the great thing it used to be. The last time I picked up the Telegraph, however, was at my two-hour stopover at Heathrow in January. As I plonked myself down in the Nervous Seat in the departure lounge, I was distressed to see that it had been reduced in size.

"Hey, didn't this used to be a broadsheet?"

And, if I'm not mistaken, it had colour pictures on the front... disgraceful! I was ashamed to be seen with it.

Now I go down occasionally to the newsagent kiosk in the Campo di Fiori and buy a Telegraph and a Spectator, to squeeze the last little dribbles of conservatism out of the English press, but it is a sad and nostalgic task, nearly always ending with me being more depressed than before.

I like magazines better. I'm saving up to get an overseas subscription to the Oldie (which is itself distressingly full of words like "partners" and stories of old people moving in together and living in sin...).

Why aren't there any magazines for young tweedy fogies like us who can't stand the sight of sixty year-old ladies wearing jeans?

Cusack responds...
The problem with the Telegraph, ironically, is that it actually makes money, so no one is willing to increase its quality for fear of disturbing its money-making status. I think this is illogical, and that given their readership they could only make more money if they went a bit more high-brow than of late, but they probably don't want to lose the constituency of housewives who would read the Daily Mail but are a bit socially ambitious so pick up the Telly instead.

Last time I was in London I solved the usual conundrum of what English paper to buy by just getting the Scotsman, or every so often the Irish Times, instead. Both leave a lot to be desired but the Scotsman covers my favourite land in the whole world and the Irish Times is brazenly wide in its broadsheet size. (Irritatingly it gets shrunk for overseas printing).

The Spectator's relatively new editor is an Oratory-attending Catholic, much better than his predecessor Matthew d'Ancona, so there's hope for the Speccie improving. Say what you want about it, but if you ever compare the Spectator to National Review, the Spectator comes out looking like gold.

The Oldie is strange like that! I sometimes get the sense that it's as if their age and experience is telling them one thing but they're still trying to convince themselves the rot of the modern world is good and true. Still, every now and then they have some excellent stuff.

As to the conundrum presented in the link you sent, the basic reality is this: the general-purpose profit-making newspaper is dead. This is NOT the same as saying 'newspapers are dead', because they're not.

There are a few ways for newspapers to succeed in these days.

1) Be owned by someone who owns a multiplicity of other, much more profit-making ventures, thus being able to subsidise the newspaper in exchange for the political influence and/or cultural cachet it brings.

2) Trusts. The Irish Times and the Guardian are run by charitable trusts instead of being profit-seeking ventures and both have been fairly successful.

3) Niche-ification. Find a niche and stick to it. The New York Observer is a weekly aimed at relatively wealthy, college-educated Manhattanites. The (monthly) Arts Newspaper covers the art world extensively. There are a few legal daily newspapers.

4) Being of such high quality that readers will want to read and buy your newspaper. BUT high quality isn't very profitable unless you're aiming for a certain kind of high quality, namely the wealthy, so that you can bring in the most lucrative kind of advertising. And among the wealthy you have too many men interested primarily in making money and too many women interested primarily in following fashions for high quality to really be what you or I would think of as high quality.

5) Having a monopoly. For example, if you're the only newspaper operating on, say, a small Caribbean island, you're pretty much set. The weakness is that, if complacency and lack of competition drives your product down, it would be easy for a deep-pocketed rival to set up shop and there goes your monopoly.

But I don't see how outfits like the Los Angeles Times or Boston Globe are going to survive unless they radically reorganise themselves with their locations as their niche, which they are loath to do because everyone wants to be a big shot.

There's my two cents!


Dano said...

"I don't see how outfits like the Los Angeles Times or Boston Globe are going to survive unless they radically reorganise themselves with their locations as their niche, which they are loath to do because everyone wants to be a big shot."

Last I heard, one of my uncles had just jumped ship from his job as an editor for the Boston Globe. He said there were already six empty desks on either side of his before he left, and they had had him taking up the slack from all those missing bodies. They probably won't change their approach until there's almost nothing left to save.

The Raven (C. Corax) said...

I'd recommend "Standpoint", which is a relatively new UK monthly with a decidedly conservative outlook.