i think therefore i am unwanted

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?

Perhaps. 

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.

Update More opinion (chuckle) from 853 and Snipe (whose three conclusions are on the money).

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6 responses to “i think therefore i am unwanted

  1. It’s good to see a newspaper owner investing in newspapers at all but broadly I’m in agreement; I think it’s quite unclear where ‘i’ would fit.

    Firstly, it takes time for any newspaper to find its voice; I’m not sure the 2/3 news digest really works. I couldn’t decide where to begin reading. Then the first story on page 5 was about mortgages hardly gripping.

    Second, will people really pay 20pence, rather than picking up the Metro at stations. Unlikely. The Metro does a good job for what it is,a s shown by the huge numbers picked up and read. The only major difference is the i has views; are there really enough people out there eager to read Johann Hari and John Rentoul, regardless of how effective they can be?

    Third, I’m not sure it would make people go out and buy the full price Independent. Having listened to Simon Kelner on Today this morning, it appears that is not the objective of the new paper and they are aimed at different markets. If that is the case, I fear for the future of the Independent. As it is it doesn’t make any money, has a falling readership and struggles to make itself heard. It certainly has some good writers, but is this enough?

    I’ll keep giving the i ago to see how it develops. Thing is, when I read a newspaper on the train into work in the morning I always think I should be reading a book instead.

  2. The news coverage in i is certainly more authoritative than Metro. The gimmicks like the matrix and TV pages are awful, but overall it’s crisply laid out and reminds me of a bulkier version of the European Metro or its rival 20 Minutes. I’m surprised they haven’t taken this direction with the Standard now it’s free.

    Agreed with you on editors’ love of opinion as opposed to news – although at least in Johann Hari there’s one in i worth reading. I mainly gave up on buying newspapers because I was no longer prepared to keep Polly Filler in Jimmy Choos, or pay money to read excerpts from blogs I wouldn’t read if you paid me.

  3. This is very interesting. I was able to walk to work for about 6 months and in that time I didn’t miss the Metro once- I and I suspect others read it because it is there- and it is becoming more and more about celebrities and less and less about anything current affairs based.

    I love newspapers and I do sit down and read one every week or Saturday or Sunday or both. Even when I did a long commute I never bought a paper and that is chiefly because it’s impossible to read them properly (however small or medium sized or whatever) on a packed commuter train.

    My parents have been having the newspaper delivered for as long as I can remember and they both read it every day- in their case it’s the Telegraph which wouldn’t be for me but they have probably paid that paper thousands over the last fifty years or so and they started buying it when they were in their early twenties and have stayed with it. That model and that loyalty seems not to exist in our generation except perhaps to the Guardian Guide.

    Papers now lack a voice and rely on celebrity columns that are badly written- and often written in a hurry I imagine.

    I don’t know what the answer is though. In the world of fast news I think papers have to offer thoughtful writing rather than the old fashioned timeline reporting- but writers being paid ever less for ever more content isn’t the answer.

    I also admire what Rupert Murdoch is trying to do with the Times in some ways- but I hate the man and I haven’t succumbed to his tv yet and I’m not paying him a subscription- although I do buy the physical Times on Sundays quite often (for some reason in my head this is better because it is a one off payment).

    Really enjoyed this reading and thinking about this- even though it is depressing.

    If I win the lottery, as I said, I’m starting a paper as an experiment

  4. Pingback: Aye aye, it’s “i” « 853

  5. The main disaster has happened long before that, when profits from advertisers and investors replaced the profits from readers. Everything came after was just an consequence.

  6. Peter,

    You’re right about content in the “qualities”. I’m pretty sure I haven’t got any brighter as I’ve got older (wot not even the accumulated wisdom of your years?), yet it’s consistently difficult to feel you’re getting any depth or reasonably neutral factual content in the news sections and the cultural pages are just froth. I rarely find anything worthwhile that I haven’t already read in a periodical. If I want opinion I can get plenty on the net. The regular columnists are just too transparently churning it out.

    There are honourable exceptions but not many.

    I can’t stand the Metro. Every morning I get on the train and weep for the trees. What’s the point in printing so many? Why take one off the newstand? There’ll be one on the train. Or should be, except the cleaning crew at Dalston clear a whole train of papers while the next crowd are bringing a fresh load on from the dispensing points in the station. At New Cross the crew there will bag that lot up. Why not just leave them? Recycle. We can all read the same 50 copies.

    And another straw in the wind. My 87 year old mother has been buying the Daily Mirror as long as I’ve been alive. It was the paper I read in the house as a child. She gave up a couple of weeks ago. She just couldn’t find anything other than celebrity pap and PR nonsense. She now gets the Daily Express. At least it has something that runs to a few paragraphs of news. Unlike busy working folk she has time on her hands and appreciates something more than the latest X Factor tittle tattle.

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