Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. As we ogle her shoes, Teflon Theresa eyes No 10 (Sunday Times) (£)

In Westminster’s unending quest for the next leader, fancies are turning towards the home secretary, says Adam Boulton.

2. Are you in a sham marriage? (Observer)

Border Agency officials ruined a wedding last week, but maybe we should all take their test, says Victoria Coren.

3. Could Chris Christie’s magic work for the Tories? (Sunday Telegraph)

Appealing to the blue-collar middle class does not come naturally to any party in Britain, says Janet Daley.

4. 66,000 girls mutilated - and we've let them do it (Mail on Sunday)

FGM has been banned here, in theory, since 1985. But it goes on, says Rachel Johnson.

5. A comedian rants and politics looks fun. Now let the grown-ups talk (Sunday Times) (£)

It is not surprising that people think MPs are useless when they get into power, says Camilla Cavendish.

6. Ed Miliband has no answer to IDS the dragon-slayer (Sunday Telegraph)

There have been snarl-ups, but Iain Duncan Smith is undeterred – if welfare reform was easy, he’ll say, someone else would have done it by now, writes Bruce Anderson.

7. Which part of a woman's body will we be taught to despise next? (Observer)

Kate's grey hair is just the latest bit to come under scrutiny, says Barbara Ellen

8. Why Dave needs a 95% loan to keep his dream home (Mail on Sunday)

David Cameron will ‘channel’ Margaret Thatcher this week, says James Forsyth

9. Even a vote for Nick Clegg is better than not voting (Independent on Sunday)

Politicians tend to pay more attention to rich, older men such as Russell Brand or Jeremy Paxman, says John Rentoul.

10. Under the Tories we have become Fool Britannia as foreign countries cash in on our energy bills (Sunday Mirror)

Why not employ our redundant former shipyard workers to make wind turbines instead of sending the work abroad, asks John Prescott.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.