It would make a great question on University Challenge: name - in the
correct order - the editors of the Sunday Express since Sir John Junor
left in 1986 (clue: there are six).
Of course, there are some more important questions that really ought to
be asked but, one suspects, only Lord Stevens could give the correct
answer to them. For example, why has this sorry state of affairs been
allowed to carry on for so long? Who’s to blame? Or how about something
more radical: what is the Sunday Express’s actual purpose?
In fact, the answer to the latter is quite simple really: it’s a cash-
cow and always has been, supporting, among other things, such marginal
activities as the Daily Star. The trouble is that this rationale is no
longer valid since, as the current management at United News and Media
now realises, you can’t milk a cash-cow forever.
No matter. Now the Sunday Express has a bright future (how many times
have we been told that before?) as part of a seven-day operation. Let us
draw a veil over the fact that no other national newspaper has ever
succeeded in managing such a concept, including Stephen Grabiner’s
former cohorts down at the Telegraph - and look at what happens there
now. The question then is whether this is a thinly disguised way to save
money or a genuine attempt to revolutionise the Express.
The new editorial supremo, Richard Addis, has at least tried to define a
strategy. It is, he says, a matter of reshaping the papers to reflect
‘the changes in the way our readers live. It is self-evident that life
in Britain has changed immeasurably in the past 15 years, especially at
the weekend - yet newspapers are still broadly published in the same
Waffly yes, but Addis is making a radical point. Think about what most
newly installed newspaper editors end up doing. They hire their old
mates, tinker with the title’s positioning and content, and then try to
improve it. They never radically rethink the title’s role and rarely
stand back and ask themselves ‘what is this paper for and how will
people read it?’. You could argue that Andrew Marr is trying to do this
at the Independent. Other than that, which other papers have done it in
recent memory? Only, I would suggest, the Independent at its launch, the
Guardian’s tabloid second section, You magazine and the Daily
Telegraph’s reinvention, now widely copied, of the Saturday edition.
And yet it is plainly obvious, given the long-term circulation trends,
that all papers, not just the Express titles, need at least a root-and
branch reassessment of what they offer their readers. You can bet that
if they are not doing so, readers and advertisers are.
Here’s my easy tip. Sundays just aren’t what they used to be, so why not
drop the name Sunday Express and call the Sunday edition the Daily
Express? That would tell the world that something radical is going on.