MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; UK papers should rethink what they offer their readers

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).

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.


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