How the seven-day Sun could change Sundays forever

If the new venture succeeds, it may become more inviting for others to consider combining daily and

Here it comes, then. In a surprise to absolutely nobody, the Sun is reaching over to reclaim the lost ground for News International and Rupert Murdoch lost by the demise of the toxic, tainted News of the World, and going seven days a week. Hooray for the Sun on Sunday.

I suppose we should be grateful, in the big scheme of things, that print is still alive at all, and there's a demand for the Sun.

Who could not feel sympathy for those people who work at the Sun, who are going to be asked to put out more content, to reach over seven days rather than six. Perhaps they're all going to get massive pay rises and huge bonuses as a result of this new endeavour, but it's tempting to have a hunch that they might not. Those of us with even the faintest experience of "managing change" in the declining industry of newspapers might imagine a mantra of more for less, challenging times, and all that: the bottom line is always that staff get cut and the product suffers, so fewer people buy it, so profits go down, so staff get cut, and so on, and so on, until it falls off a cliff. I can't wish that on anyone, not even the Sun, although as I said recently, I do reserve the right not to be miserably disappointed if the product disappears.

It may be a crisis that accelerated changes that could have happened anyway, or it may be the case that there were no plans to combine Sun and News of the World operations before the Screws became tainted by phone-hacking revelations. Wherever the truth lies, it has become an opportunity to make existing staff more fearful for their jobs than ever, when they've seen so many of their former colleagues sent down the job centre at such short notice. If you didn't have a compliant workforce before, a move like that, whatever the reasons behind it, is going to make them sit up and take notice.

What does it mean for the Sunday newspaper marketplace? It could have implications for other titles, who will no doubt be interested in seeing how the Sun manages a seven-day schedule. It may become more and more inviting for others to consider combining daily and weekly elements, even more than has happened already. Perhaps it might signal the beginning of the end of the Sunday newspaper as an entirely separate entity: if the Sun can do it, why shouldn't everyone else?

What are Sunday newspapers for nowadays, apart from the flogging of hugely expensive stuff that no-one can afford and lifestyles that no-one cares about, in the case of the "quality" press; or tedious revelations about reality television, in the case of the tabloids? Forgive me, if you possibly can, for taking the tediously obtuse tone of the kind of person who snippily leaves a comment under a blogpost to say that I read no further than the first three words before I decided that the author had got everything disastrously wrong, but I don't really get on with Sunday papers anyway. I see them as long reads for people who don't particularly like reading, or childishly cartoonish attempts at kiss-and-tell tedium, but then that might just be me. For many others, the Sunday paper is part of a weekend ritual, and long may it continue for them, I suppose.

Will the Sun change any of this? Will it be brash? Will it just be the same thing as every other day of the week, but without a page 3 (in a similar vein to the Saturday Sun)? We'll have to wait and see. Actually, I won't wait, and I probably won't see, but I do still feel that pang of sympathy for the poor souls in Wapping working harder and harder to keep churning it out. If it succeeds, it could open the floodgates to more mergers, more of the same. And that could change Sundays forever.

 

 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Show Hide image

Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital