Can the Sun on Sunday really keep Rupert happy?

The Murdoch tabloid will have to buck the industry trend.

So, no pressure then. Thirty six hours before the presses were set to roll for the debut edition of the Sun on Sunday -- aka NotW: Resurection -- Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter. He wrote:

The Sun:great speculation, sweeps, etc on Sunday's sale.I will be very happy at anything substantially over two million!— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) February 24, 2012

 

Murdoch, whose every passing tweet reads like an audition for an as yet to be commissioned series of Grumpy Old Men, has promised staff in Wapping to stick by "you all, in London, for the next several weeks". To some that sounds warm and avuncular. To others, like a threat.

And quite what "substantially over two million" means is anyone's guess.

There remains an appetite for Sunday redtops -- both the Sunday Mirror (sales up 65 per cent since the News of the World stopped printing) and the Daily Star Sunday (up 95 per cent from a lower base) greatly benefitted from the absence of a Murdoch tabloid on the Sabbath.

Yet the overall trend for newspaper sales is firmly in the other direction -- and that hasn't changed in the six and a half months since the NotW said "Thank you and Goodbye".

Consider that most nationals are down substantially (that word again) year on year -- sales for the Sun, for example, are 8.35 per cent lower, according to the most recent figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Prior to its closure the NotW was already suffering a similar decline. In the six months from January to June 2011 the paper sold an average of 2.68 million copies a week; impressive numbers but 7.75 per cent fewer compared to the same period 12 moths earlier. Go back to 2010 and the decline was 3 per cent. So the loss of sales is not only ongoing, it's accelerating.

Consider too, that in the age of Leveson, a more button-upped Sunday tabloid will have lost the shock appeal on the news-stand it once had.

The buzz around the first issue will help Murdoch towards his personal target but once things settle into the weekly routine, will the Sun on Sunday really be able to hit 2.5 million, or more?

Regardless, our own Peter Wilby believes the shareholders at News Corp are playing a longer game that ends in the sale of Murdoch's UK newspapers. In the current New Statesman, Wilby writes:

A successful launch of the Sun on Sunday ensures a higher sale price.

 

 

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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The Manchester attack will define this election: Broadcasters have a careful line to tread

It's right that the government should be given a chance to respond, but they must not be allowed to use it to campaign.

Every election campaign has its story, its place in the political history of this country. 2017 will forever be known for Manchester and the horror of the attack on Britain's young; and fighting terrorism will be a theme, overt or underlying, of what we see and hear between now and polling day.

The broadcasters have covered the events comprehensively yet sensitively. But they are aware that we're in an election campaign too; and when other news drives aside the carefully-balanced campaign formats, ministerial appearances give them a dilemma.

The fact is that what the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are doing in response to Manchester is newsworthy. It was Theresa May's duty to implement the recommendations of her security advisers on the elevation of the terror alert, and it would have been unthinkable for the news channels not to broadcast her various statements.

But it is also true that, if the bomb hadn't been detonated, Tuesday would have been a day in which the PM would have been under relentless damaging scrutiny for her u-turn on social care. All the opposition parties would have been in full cry across the airwaves. Yet in the tragic circumstances we found ourselves, nobody could argue that Downing Street appearances on the terror attack should prompt equal airtime for everyone from Labour to Plaid Cymru.

There are precedents for ministers needing to step out of their party roles during a campaign, and not be counted against the stopwatch balance of coverage. Irish terrorism was a factor in previous elections and the PM or Northern Ireland secretary were able to speak on behalf of the UK government. It applied to the foot and mouth epidemic that was occupying ministers' time in 2001. Prime ministers have gone to foreign meetings before, too. Mrs Thatcher went to an economic summit in photogenic Venice with her soulmate Ronald Reagan three days before the 1987 election, to the irritation of Neil Kinnock.

There are plenty of critics who will be vigilant about any quest for party advantage in the way that Theresa May and Amber Rudd now make their TV and radio appearances; and it’s inevitable that a party arguing that it offers strength and stability will not object to being judged against these criteria in extreme and distressing times.

So it's necessary for both broadcasters and politicians to be careful, and there are some fine judgements to be made. For instance, it was completely justifiable to interview Amber Rudd about the latest information from Manchester and her annoyance with American intelligence leaks. I was less comfortable with her being asked in the same interview about the Prevent strategy, and with her response that actions would follow "after June", which edges into party territory and would be a legitimate area to seek an opposition response.

When the campaigning resumes, these challenges become even greater. Deciding when the Prime Minister is speaking for the government and nation, or when she is leader of the Conservative Party, will never be black and white. But I would expect to see the broadcast bulletins trying to draw clearer lines about what is a political report and what is the latest from Manchester or from G7. They must also resist any efforts to time ministerial pronouncements with what's convenient for the party strategists' campaign grid.

There might also usefully be more effort to report straight what the parties are saying in the final days, with less spin and tactical analysis from the correspondents. The narrative of this election has been changed by tragedy, and the best response is to let the politicians and the public engage as directly as possible in deciding what direction the nation should now take.

Roger Mosey is the Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He was formerly editorial director and the director of London 2012 at the BBC.

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