If you're looking for a barometer of the economic health of the nation, you could do a lot worse than to apply Rory Sutherland's Sevenoaks test.
Last week, the Ogilvy vice-chairman pointed out that, thanks to the downturn, it has already become easier to find a parking space at Sevenoaks station.
It doesn't take long for meltdown in the City (and, equally, at Canary Wharf, where Sutherland is billeted) to manifest itself in human terms. Indeed, sources at Campaign can confirm that there are noticeably fewer people standing in the cattle trucks that National Express runs on the lines into Liverpool Street.
It's been a good few years since the economy has turned into such a huge issue for us all. And you could argue that the implications for news media, particularly newspapers, are obvious: you need to up your commitment to the coverage of business and finance issues, don't you?
Well, actually, perhaps you don't. If you're the boss of a broadsheet newspaper, the crunch could be forcing you to conclude that, in reality, it might be a good time to shed at least one or two of your specialist business and finance journalists, while making preparations to cut back on pagination.
Because, after all, the business and finance coverage that matters is now up at the front of the book and it's being led by your crack news reporters. Meanwhile, like the car-park at Sevenoaks station, the specialist pages are about to look distinctly less busy.
As the economy slows, there are fewer "nuts and bolts" stories to latch on to, and there's diminished advertising support for this section of the paper. In any case, there's hardly anyone on the 6.42 in to Liverpool Street these days - and they're probably not reading the business pages anyway.
1. Telegraph.co.uk has folded two separate web operations - its business coverage and its personal finance service - into a single integrated finance channel. It is backing the new brand, Telegraph Finance, with a significant on- and offline marketing campaign, including digital outdoor on the London Underground.
Telegraph Finance announced last week that it had signed a £1 million deal with Barclays Financial Planning, which will run ads on the site.
Richard Blackden, the City editor at telegraph.co.uk, comments: "The Telegraph is committed to providing the best in business coverage and analysis. The number of page views on the business section of the site grew by 162 per cent in the year to July and we hope the redesigned finance channel will offer powerful editorial content with news you can use."
2. Telegraph.co.uk has also signed a deal with breakingviews.com - a site claiming to be "the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight". It has a network of 25 correspondents and columnists spread across the world's major business and finance centres and its content now features on telegraph.co.uk's finance pages. Thanks to coincidental deals, breakingviews.com content also features prominently on the websites of both The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune. A sign of the times.
3. The Times is believed to have entered into discussions with its News Corp sister title The Wall Street Journal. Editorial co-operation is not thought to be on the agenda at this stage, but there have been discussions about teaming up to offer global advertising opportunities. This coincides with a relaunch of WSJ.com, featuring a new layout, a video player and interactive graphics.
Katie Vanneck, the sales and marketing director, Times Media, comments: "There is a great appetite at the moment for critical, must-read news and comment on the current economic turmoil and its implications, which is reflected by the circulation increases for both The Times and The Sunday Times. We are dedicating more editorial space to showcase what we do best - essential analysis on the topics that impact on our readers."
4. FT.com reported a 300 per cent increase in page-views during the height of the financial market turmoil in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse. It believes that this increase in audience should be regarded as an opportunity in commercial terms - but has been reluctant to talk about how the company's on- and offline offerings may be tailored to meet the challenges of the new climate.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Newspapers have to cut their cloth according to the dictates of the times - but they play a risky game when they seek deft ways (and many media owners are at it) to make less seem like more. Offering syndicated content that's also being carried by two international rivals may seem like a clever expedient - but those of us who, for instance, get a taste for breakingviews.com are more than capable of adding its home URL to our favourites menu.
- By outsourcing in this way, media owners may in the end undermine their unique selling proposition in this area - and, ultimately, draw attention to the fact that they've cut back their commitment when many readers will be wanting more.
- In recent times, the big financial institutions have focused the greater part of their efforts on selling stupidly elaborate finance packages to each other. The survivors of the market meltdown will be the banks with substantial retail sides to their offering.
- Consequently, for the foreseeable future, the focus in financial advertising will be on reaching the public at large - and it's likely that the major players will chose to peddle their wares in a general news environment rather than in the specialist news pages and finance sections, where evidence of fire damage is depressingly abundant.
- Business-to-business advertising, whether in finance or in the wider spheres of industry, is likely to remain slow, whatever media owners do.