You may have noticed a new newspaper on your way to work this morning.
i is billed as a new concept, a snappy summation of the Independent that offers some of the benefits of a serious newspaper with the attitude of a tabloid, and costs just 20p. It’s the Metro with opinion columns.
And it’s not bad. You can see what they are trying to do and they pretty much pull it off (although as somebody who saw Time Out attempt to revolutionise TV listings about a dozens times every year, I don’t give i‘s more than a month). It’s good to see another publisher trying to do something, anything, to save the printed newspaper.
But I have one reservation: is what they are trying to do right in the first place?
Increasingly, all newspapers have become obsessed with attracting an audience that doesn’t buy newspapers. The success of the Metro has woken them up to this previously untapped readership of busy 20-30-year-olds who want a basic grasp of what is going on in the world, plus a funny kitten story on page 3, but don’t want to pay for it. The Metro serves this purpose tremendously. Now everybody wants a piece of the pie.
But in chasing this audience – an audience, remember, that has never shown any previous interest in paying for news – publishers are in danger of neglecting those of us who value newspapers for other reasons. Perhaps we like good writing and well-researched articles that tell us things we didn’t already know. This is still out there, but it’s increasingly hard to find.
Instead, we get features written by Wikipedia and opinion masquerading as news. And we get newspapers that are increasingly political in everything they do and say, which means you can’t trust any of them.
Columnists are legion, frantically demonstrating their independence of thought by aggressively agreeing with one another, or desperately trying to say something stupid and controversial in the hope it’ll get them noticed. This bores me silly, unless it is well written or funny or thoughtful, which it rarely is. (And yes, I am fully aware of the irony of saying all this on a blog.)
Am I an elitist? Am I hopelessly naive? Am I an out-of-touch snob?
But here’s the thing: the more that newspapers chase this mythical paper-purchasing Metro audience, the worse their sales figures get.
So perhaps it’s not just me that wonders why they should pay £1.20 – or even 20p – to be told things they already know by people they don’t trust or respect?
I am a journalist. I love to write and I love to read. But I no longer buy newspapers and the i is not going to change that.