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
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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.