Farewell to the unloveliest newspaper

The <em>Sport</em> and <em>Sunday Sport</em> have gone under, taking their torrent of nipples and ma

Daily Sport

Farewell, then, to the unloveliest newspaper that ever lived, the wretchedly tacky ejaculation of juvenile chortling and tits that was the Sport and Sunday Sport.

Goodbye to the avalanche of breasts. Goodbye to the nipple count. Goodbye to the simian dribbling over bits of people's bodies. Goodbye, too, to the comedy anti-news news articles, which once upon a time jarred against their tabloid competitors, but seem pretty half-hearted compared to the kind of made-up crap we have to put up with now. World War 2 Bomber Found on Moon. Hitler Was a Woman. Bus At North Pole. Oh, how we laughed. But we're not laughing now.

There were slightly less chucklesome things in the Sport down the years, mind you. The court reports about sexual crimes, written in slightly unpleasant amounts of detail, sat in disturbingly close proximity to pictures of half-naked women, there to help you masturbate yourself into a coma. Perhaps it was all just a lot of harmless fun and I am a humourless wretch; I don't know. I just know that it doesn't seem quite so hilarious, in retrospect.

I suppose as someone who calls himself a journalist, I'm meant to be saddened by the departure of another national publication. And I'm not saying I don't understand how devastating it must be for people who have worked hard and who are now out of a job; I feel as sorry for them as I would for anyone flung on to the scrapheap at a moment's notice. But these newspapers were a cavalcade of cheap and nasty tat demeaning news-stands up and down the land by being placed next to real newspapers. For those who worked there, I'm sorry for you, but, on the other hand: welcome to the clean world.

What went wrong to kill off the Sport and Sunday Sport? I suppose the ready availability of porn on the web is the biggest factor. Why go and buy a newspaper for softcore smut when you can access a world of unimaginable filth catering for any kind of taste with the click of a mouse or using your mobile phone? It seems a bit archaic to go into a newsagent and embarrass yourself in the hope of giving your solo sex fun a few go-faster stripes, when you might as well just fire up the laptop and knock yourself out. When you're only flogging your papers on the promise of more boobs than the page threes elsewhere, with only a few ropey articles constituting the "news", you're putting yourself in a vulnerable position. And so it's proved.

At the paper shop on Sunday, there was just a gap where the Sunday Sport used to be, a void in the plastic display, the absence of a gaudy front page with an upskirt photo of a minor celebrity bending over and some paparazzo stuffing a camera into her arse. That wasn't there. And things already looked brighter because of it.

One down, several more to go. But judging by the eagerness with which the Daily Star on Sunday welcomed readers of the Sunday Sport, someone somewhere still reckons there's a market for it. Time will tell if they're right.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad