Guys, come on, we all know newspapers are doomed

Why are headlines trying to persuade us otherwise?

Just look at the latest circulation figures for the UK’s "unrivalled" stable of national newspapers. Now look at the headline of the article that included these numbers in the main body.

 

Per cent change year on year

Daily Titles

 

Daily Mirror

-3.94%

Daily Star

-10.20%

The Sun

-13.15%

Daily Express

-13.31%

Daily Mail

-6.86%

The Daily Telegraph

-4.63%

Financial Times

-13.03%

The Guardian

-11.59%

i

11.16%

The Independent

-18.82%

The Times

-2.29%

 

 

Sunday Titles

 

Daily Star Sunday

-29.05%

The Sun (Sunday)

-14.37%

Sunday Mirror

-4.68%

The People

-7.78%

Sunday Express

-11.10%

The Mail on Sunday

-10.21%

Independent on Sunday

-8.65%

The Observer

-12.94%

The Sunday Telegraph

-6.15%

The Sunday Times

-8.27%

The headline probably says more about the real problem at the heart of the media establishment than anything that was said during last year's Leveson enquiry.

The circulations of Britain's national newspapers are in terminal decline. This has been obvious for some while and you only have to speak with the millions of well-informed, articulate people under 30 years old to know why. The numbers presented in the report show quite how badly the circulations are falling. The dailies are down about 8 per cent, year on year and the Sundays by more than 11 per cent.

So you have to wonder what inspired the headline " Telegraph enjoys summer lifts in June"?

More importantly, could the article have looked at the issues that newspaper publishers face? Take distribution, for example. Delivering newsprint all around the country is costly and getting more so with every week. And papers like the Guardian are already loosing millions every year.

There will come a time when publishers calculate that the costs simply outweigh the return. Thus there are two dilemmas. First, is to calculate exactly when the newspaper groups will cease trying to sell papers at the news stand. Second, is to ask why the UK's supposedly diligent and rigorous cadre of journalists is so reluctant to investigate why an industry in such trouble is getting such misleading headlines?

The answer to the first question is: sooner than you think. The answer to the second probably doesn't matter.

Photograph: Getty Images

Spencer Neal is a reformed publisher who now advises on media and stakeholder relations at Keeble Brown. He writes about the ironies and hypocrisies that crop up in other peoples' businesses. He is also an optimist.

Flickr/Nic Gould
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Why haven't we heard more about the allegations of Tory election fraud?

Police and prosecutors have joined a probe into election fraud allegations that could erase the Tory majority.

The facts

The Conservative Party is facing accusations of breaking election spending rules during its 2015 campaign. Following a Channel 4 investigation, it has admitted to failing to declare more than £38,000 of expenses, money it says was spent on accommodation for Tory activists.

It’s up to the Electoral Commission, which met this week with prosecutors and police forces, to decide whether or not to launch criminal investigations into this spending.

Allegations that the money benefited campaigns in individual seats have put the Tories in hot water – they may have illegally exceeded the constituency-specific spending limit. Making a false spending declaration in an election carries a punishment of up to a year in prison and/or an unlimited fine, and anyone found guilty is also barred from running in a general election or holding any elected office for three years.

But the party claims that, as the money was spent on “BattleBus” activists who were driving around the country, it counts as national spending from HQ, rather than being part of individual candidates’ spending.

The Electoral Commission, Crown Prosecution Service and representatives of 15 police forces met this week to discuss the claims. This has resulted in extra time being allowed (an extension on the 12 months allowed under the Representation of the People Act) for relevant police forces to decide what action to take.

Up to 29 Conservative candidates are thought to have benefitted from “BattleBus” campaigning, many of whom were fighting marginal seats.

As Channel 4’s Michael Crick reported yesterday:

“It will be interesting to see if they actually start naming constituencies where they think offences may have occurred. That would then put elected MPs, Conservative MPs, in the frame.

“And indeed, if they were to look at all the constituencies that we’ve been making allegations about over the last few months, it could actually endanger the government’s majority in the House of Commons.”

The conspiracy claims

So why haven’t we heard about this? It undermines the credibility of the entire Tory general election campaign. The claims could even constitute a scandal that would trigger by-elections across the country and potentially erase the Tory majority. The Tories have a working majority of 18, so if they lost in 18 by-elections (were at least 18 MPs to be found guilty), then they would lose their majority.

Some, particularly online leftwing voices, have accused the media of conspiring not to cover this story. Our rightwing press and the cowardly BBC, they argue, are ignoring a story that could potentially call the Conservative general election victory into question.

Anger about this story being low on the political agenda is understandable. It hasn’t been prominent, considering it could result in prosecutions (indeed, the Devon and Cornwall police force is reportedly already investigating, following its meeting with the Electoral Commission). And if, say, The Sun were a left-leaning paper, it probably would have framed it in a dramatic way that would have grabbed readers’ attention.

But there isn’t a media conspiracy of silence. BBC News has been covering developments since the beginning of the year, including similar claims about 2014 by-elections, and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative chairman during the election) was hauled onto the BBC Daily Politics sofa to respond to the allegations. And the BBC’s Today programme put the allegations to Communities & Local Government Secretary Greg Clark this morning. Channel 4 News has been investigating the story, and breaking developments, from the start. The Mirror has done a big investigation into each of the MPs’ campaigns that have been accused. And all of the main papers have published news reports on the story.

The reason it may seem like silence, or lack of due prominence, is because this is an ongoing investigation. So far there have been no arrests, and the allegations remain just that: allegations. Care is required by media organisations not to falsely accuse anyone of criminal activity. And, pushed by journalists, the Conservatives have given their side of the story, so we’re not going to get a great deal more from them. Now it’s up to police forces to decide to take action.

So far, the only things to report on have been what would and would not count as a breach of electoral law (rather a dry subject), and whether or not the Electoral Commission would achieve an extension on the time allowed by law for investigating (also somewhat technical). And, however dull, these things have been reported. They may not have been shared a huge amount online, or bounced to the top of “most-read” boxes – but this is because readers aren’t usually that interested in the ins and outs of the Representation of the People Act, no matter how much those who want this government toppled wish they were.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.