Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Judging by a cover

Conscious or not, commuting Londoners are on the front line of a high-stakes media battlefield. In one corner sits global media hog, Rupert Murdoch's News International and its long-awaited freesheet, thelondonpaper (sadly not written by ee cummings despite appearances); in the other sits Associated Newspapers and London Lite. Both papers are aimed at young urbanite commuters who have grown up not paying for a newspaper and are increasingly turning to the internet. For their news, not their porn (stay with me today).

And whilst we could use this freebie media insurgency to debate the evil monopolistic tendencies of journalism writ large. We would be recklessly dismissing the major and immediate risk at hand: the loss of the impermeable stereotypes we derive from a fellow commuter's newspaper choice (free Metro excluded).

In the mind numbing but stimulus heavy subculture of London's public transport systems, we look for easy signals from which to distinguish friend and foe. In times of heightened security this is reduced to size of backpack or briefcase, but in less pressured times is often marked by newspaper mast. A lot can be surmised about a person if given their commute reading preference. But if everybody is reading an indistinguishable free Metro, Lite, or thelondonpaper; how will we know a Telegraph tory, from a Mirror builder, or an FT money tree?

All of a sudden the world of pretend subterranean sympathies would be no more. And the imagined personalities the stereotypes afford are part of the collective force driving our will to commute. They help connect the dots between millions of atomised souls being carried from place A to place B, if only for 20 minutes a day.

If this freebie explosion takes off, everything would be different. No longer could I smile at the Guardian reading bloke who I assume eats muesli and lentils, until I remember he probably wears socks with his sandals. Nor will I stare down the suited and booted FT reading gent, with presaged contempt of his million pound bonuses. Or smile out of pity at the Sun reading chap still stuck on Page Three.

No, once we are all fed the same free dribble, the cost will be to our collective, time passing stereotyping. But wait, must we surrender? For 70 pence a day, won't we gladly escape? This is today's world order, as here defined: paying up, to read up, so we can dream up. But remember to choose with caution, now you know we are all watching.

For anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper and wondered what's gone into it?

Recommended read: My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism by Andrew Marr. A clever insightful read by a journalist who loves his job.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Sam said...

I agree with you City Slicker but I am afraid the freebies will win out. It may be a Pyhrric victory and cost both News International and Associated loads of dosh in the process but sadly nobody wants to pay anymore for a newspaper. The stereotype angle is funny. I never realised I must do it especially about Daily Star readers. You could have had a stab at the sad people who pay ££ for that rubbish.

I support the cause but sadly think this can only go one way.
But don't worry, be happy it is a good omen for bloggers. :-)

5:54 pm  
Anonymous intheskywithdiamonds said...

Really enjoyed your post City Slicker but one thing that does surprise me a little - the name of the paper. thelondonpaper.com was registered back in February so they've been mulling it for a while, but it doesn't leave them much space for taking their product further afield. In fact, they've already registered plenty of other "papers". A quick check reveals themanchesterpaper.com, thebirminghampaper.com, theglasgowpaper.com, thecardiffpaper.com and theliverpoolpaper.com. I guess that's fair warning to every regional and local evening around the country that News International is looking at your marketplace.

Mind you, it looks like thenorwichpaper.com is available at time of writing...

5:58 pm  
Blogger Moaner Lisa said...

Hope days of paper prejudice aren't really behind us. Three other things:

1. Torygraph readers who spread their giant paper across the whole of the table on the train; their paper choice and behaviour revealing their social concious at the same time.

2. People who read out of date (usually Sunday) papers in on the tube. How can they do that? Aren't they ashamed to publicly acknowledge they are playing catch-up?

3. People who get upset when you are reading the paper over their shoulder. What is their problem? Am I ruining their read by having a glance at the headlines? Admitedly, these are usually daily mail readers so its hardly a great loss if they shuffle out of your line of vision.

6:15 pm  
Anonymous max said...

Hold on ... I thought the whole point about late capitalism was that you couldn't tell the suits from the sandals anymore? Or was that just the early 90s?

Anyhow, I'm more worried about what goes into the paper. What's the editorial line? These freesheets get most their content from right-leaning parent papers - the Mail, the Times, the Sun. But as a Havaianas-clad lefty, I don't want a load of right-wing news shoved at me. Where's my free Guardianette?

6:57 pm  
Blogger ems said...

I am offered the Metro and City AM in the morning but am slightly amused that for all the hype I've yet to work out where you get the new papers from.

I carried out an observational poll on the tube this evening. Of the 17 people I could see clearly on the District Line from West Ham: 3 Metro, 2 thelondonpaper, 2 Sun, 1 London Lite, 1 Telegraph, 1 Evening Standard.

I have a problem with the word lite.

8:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moaner, is it just me or do you need to need to chill a little...I mean how big a sin is it to read the weekend papers a few days after print. Everyone knows they pull 80% of it together by the Wednesday previous and its hardly that time sensitive...go hug
a tree..or find a boyfriend to put you right

1:52 am  
Blogger Shep said...

Setting aside my old-school lefty leanings, the one thing I miss about London, the over-riding element that fills me with nostalgia...is The Evening Standard. Specifically the Max Hastings years. Nowadays there's too many damn lifestyle features.

I know it's the Daily Mail in disguise. I know that it's self-important in a way that puts even Time Out to shame...but I miss it. I used to love the way that, where we worked in Charing Cross Road, we used to all be waiting around for 4.30pm - the West End Final. No customers were served from 4.30-7pm (closing time) as we sat and read and did the crossword and devoured it. It was a comic shop mind, so we could get away with this - we were too cool for school.

Hastings may be many many unpleasant things, but he was a great editor. And the Standard a great paper. And of course he won us the Falklands. I think.

On my recent visit I was too busy to get one, but I did get a Metro whilst running through the underground. It was exactly the same as it was 4 years ago - no character at all.

9:27 am  
Anonymous Tanya said...

But Max there can't be a free leftie paper because Murdoch rules the media world. That is the point. For real journalism you are going to have to pay up.

Murdoch uses his diverse holdings . . . to promote his own financial interests at the expense of real news gathering, legal and regulatory rules, and journalistic ethics. He wields his media as instruments of influence with politicians who can aid him, and savages his competitors in his news columns. If ever someone demonstrated the dangers of mass power being concentrated in few hands, it would be Murdoch.

9:50 am  
Anonymous Ella said...

Here Here CS
Abandon all reason ye who enter the land of the freebie.
I join the assault on trash.

10:36 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew Marr book will change the way you view headlines. Don't feel you have to read it in full it is easy to chop and change around. If you curious about the real workings behind the Murdoch machine. Not sure I can think of another book on British journalism. Anybody?

12:11 pm  
Blogger Moaner Lisa said...

I was once told that Evelyn Waugh's Scoop Evelyn Waugh's Scoop was the best book about journalism by an old journo. Ask Shep for a discount! Realise that's hardly contemporary though.

11:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

London Lite is much better quality both on the paper weight and writing. I hope it succeeds.

10:36 am  

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