The media column - Peter Wilby

"Beautiful, calm and witty" is an odd way to describe a magazine that includes Fay Weldon writing on

If upmarket newspapers are not changing size, they are changing editors. When the Observer follows its Guardian sister into the Berliner format - as it is expected to do within weeks - only four London-based national broadsheets will remain: the two Telegraphs, the Financial Times and the Sunday Times. The FT and the Sunday Telegraph have already changed their editors, and the future of the Daily Telegraph editor, Martin Newland, is the subject of constant debate.

Only John Witherow sails serenely along at the Sunday Times, a newspaper so firmly in control of its sales and advertising markets that it could probably get away with appointing an orang-utan as editor and printing everything upside down.

All of a sudden a broadsheet has become a very difficult thing to edit. Indeed, it seems hard enough to read: wrestling with a broadsheet, I have recently found, makes my arms ache, presumably because it involves muscles I now rarely use.

The autumn revamps of the two Telegraphs betray confusion about the markets they are aiming for. The daily made only minor changes in its news pages but introduced a separate, broadsheet business section, while sport went into a tabloid section that looks like a shrunken version of its old self. The paper thus ended up with two "masculine" sections while the "feminine" lifestyle and arts pages were shunted to the back of the main news section, and look as if they come from a different paper altogether.

A plausible explanation is that the Telegraph is trying to recruit a traditional, upmarket, male readership, disgruntled by the feminisation and alleged dumbing-down of the Times. Yet the new Telegraph has been trying, not very successfully, to imitate the same paper the Times is imitating: the Daily Mail.

"Robbed of life for nothing", proclaimed a front-page lead in the new look's first week. The story was about the prison sentences imposed on the killers of Danielle Beccan, the 14-year-old Nottingham schoolgirl. They got 32 years each. So what did the headline mean? Don't ask. The same week, the splash headline read simply "£200".

Below, we were informed: "(That's how much your TV licence could cost if the BBC gets its way)". Why the brackets? Because the Mail uses brackets in headlines - though not as clumsily as that.

The Sunday Telegraph, radically redesigned under its new editor, Sarah Sands, is aimed more determinedly at the Mail market. Its new magazine Stella - "founded on the pleasure principle" - looks and reads like a million other magazines that drop out of newspapers and clutter newsagents' shelves. Sands described Stella as "a journalistic spa: beautiful, calm, witty, transforming", which seems an odd description for anything that includes Fay Weldon on "the significance of a hair appointment" and another piece "in praise of plain white knickers".

The books pages, once the most cerebral in Fleet Street, have gone into a new arts and listings magazine called Seven. The reviews, much reduced in length, feature books about dead pets and Santa Claus. News stories are also shorter. The whole package entirely lacks the familiar long Sunday reads that even the Mail on Sunday provides.

Sands promised "brains and beauty". Readers wanting the former will have to rely mainly on the Harvard don Niall Ferguson, the best of the paper's new columnists. If the Daily Telegraph seems to embrace change too tentatively, its Sunday stablemate has surely lurched too far and too abruptly from the patrician style of Sands's predecessor, Dominic Lawson.

Now, bounding on to the scene, comes John Bryant, a new editor-in-chief over both Sands and Newland. Though his spiritual home is the Mail, he is one of Fleet Street's more mobile figures. He joined the embryonic Independent in 1986 - commissioning me to write a feature for a dummy issue, with full instructions as to the conclusions I should reach - and then smartly defected to the Times before the paper even launched.

Later, as editor of the Sunday Correspondent, he became known as "the origami man", turning the paper into a tabloid before it folded. He will need to discover new skills to get the Telegraphs back on course.

Patriotic newspapers such as the Telegraph and Express always give great prominence to the British weather. Perhaps they feel it essential to national pride that we pretend to suffer the same climatic challenges as other countries.

On 11 and 12 November the Express excelled itself. First it led the front page with "80mph gales and floods". Next day it announced "a big beast of a storm". No other national paper I received nor any TV bulletin I saw had a word of this, and when my wife went sailing that day she was becalmed. There were storms in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but only in the Outer Hebrides were they exceptional. Beneath its masthead the Express has "Britain defiant". But its 12 November headline, "100mph winds: stay indoors", seemed more like a call for national wimpishness.

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