This month has been bleak for print journalism in the UK. The Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers folded. The Guardian has lost more than £100m over the last year, and is looking to slash £54m from its annual budget to make savings. Redundancies are rife.
Although current affairs magazines, like the New Statesman, Economist, Spectator and Private Eye, are growing, the future is looking increasingly like chip paper for the hard copies of British daily papers.
So the news that Trinity Mirror – publisher of the Mirror, People, Daily Record and hundreds of regional papers – is launching a new national daily newspaper has baffled the media world.
The paper is called The New Day. It is 40 pages long, has a core staff of 25, and will cost 50p (25p for the first two weeks). It will be available for free at 40,000 retailers today, for its launch (29 February).
— Alison Phillips (@AlisonTheNewDay) February 28, 2016
Reports suggest that the paid-for circulation target is about 200,000 sales a day, and the initial print run of the title could be as many as two million copies. Press Gazette reports that a £5m advertising campaign is accompanying the paper’s launch.
The New Day won’t have a website, but has a Facebook and Twitter account. It is aimed at people aged 35-55, and its official statement says it is for “women and men”. Putting “women” first in that statement is not accidental – it aims to move away from the default catering to men it sees in other papers.
In fact, there were reports earlier this year that Trinity Mirror was to produce a tabloid focused exclusively on women. This plan has since been heavily diluted, reportedly for commercial reasons – halving the audience would spook advertisers already cautious about print ventures.
The New Day doesn’t associate itself with the Mirror, or class itself as a tabloid (it has a turquoise masthead), and is attempting not to have a political bias. It won’t run leaders, for example. And its purpose is to give “time-poor” people all the news and information they need to know for the day in 30 minutes.
Sound familiar? Yes, the (relatively) new, cheap, digest-style murderous younger sibling of the Independent, the i, sounds very similar. Tabloid-sized, and 40p on the newsstand, it is thought that the i – using the content of other publications in its stable for a fraction of the price – cannibalised the Indy and Sindy.
The New Day’s editor Alison Phillips, the former Mirror Saturday and Sunday editor, admits that people may make this comparison because it’s a “fairly recent” paper, and looks “bright and modern”. But she insists The New Day is different.
“It’s not like the i,” she tells me. “It’s just not . . . It is a very different product to anything else that’s actually out there. We do have a digest of some news events. And then we have other stories that are done in far greater detail, with much more opinion and analysis.”
The first New Day flatplan. Photo: Trinity Mirror
It is difficult to marry this emphasis on in-depth comment with the paper’s pitch to provide everything a reader needs to know in half an hour, without bias. But the key question is where its content comes from. The i is merely a figleaf of standalone success. It sells well – but its stories came from the Independent. Will The New Day nick its content from its more established newsstand neighbours?
“We’ve got a mix really,” says Phillips. “Any stories that can be told in a fairly basic form – maybe coming from PA or from within Trinity Mirror, because obviously we’ve got a vast amount of content coming into Trinity Mirror from across the country. And then we also have a lot of exclusive content being provided as well.”
So it sounds like Trinity Mirror publications will be a content crutch for the new paper to some degree. Indeed, the Guardian reports that the distribution for The New Day in Scotland will be very low, to avoid undermining Daily Record sales.
But where will the money come from? Trinity Mirror chief executive Simon Fox wants it to be a “profitable, sustainable product” – ie not to run at a loss, like many other UK newspapers.
He says: “We are a commercial organisation. This is primarily a circulation, or cover price-driven, model. There will be advertising. We’ve got eight different advertising slots within the paper, we have no classified section. But the vast majority of the revenue is going to come from the cover price, multiplied by the number of copies it sells.”
A “post-digital” paper
The big question is why The New Day won’t be available online. Both in terms of readers’ habits and making money from advertising, this seems like a kamikaze move.
Fox disagrees. He calls live online breaking news a “crowded market, and to some degree a commodity market”. “We simply didn’t feel there was a gap in the market for that,” he adds. “The idea is to use social media to genuinely have a dialogue with readers.”
The New Day will be filming its editorial meetings and putting them online, in an attempt to engage with readers about how they would like a story covered. A nice thought, but again, the “time-poor” reader who wants the basics in 30 minutes may not be the right target for a Facebook back-and-forth on angles or newslists.
Phillips claims that after 18 months of conversations with hundreds of lapsed and lapsing newspaper readers, The New Day’s research is getting “under the skin” of why people are opting out of print.
The New Day. Photo: Trinity Mirror
“There was an assumption that it had to do with digital,” she says. “And that may be true to a certain extent, but it wasn’t the entire reason. There are people who just weren’t getting everything they wanted from their existing newspapers . . . in the post-digital age, whereby everything is different now – both in terms of how people get their news and how they communicate having got that news – what would the newspaper look like? And this hopefully is what it would look like.”
It is the neutrality, and “optimistic” and “upbeat” tone, which Phillips believes marks this newspaper out from others. But is this really what readers want? It’s true there aren’t any other UK papers out there – apart from, perhaps, the i – with such values. But that might be because there is no demand for it.
People tend to complain about our didactic and biased media, but they level those accusations at the media they don’t consume. For example, a Guardian reader might rail against untrustworthy journalists and the press misleading readers, but they’ll be talking about the Daily Mail rather than the Guardian or the BBC. And vice versa.
But Phillips says she finds that readers “feel really battered down by every newspaper telling them what they should think”, and also by the “relentless negativity about everything and everyone” of our newspapers.
“Most people are pretty decent, this country’s pretty decent, and those things ought to be marked and celebrated in some way,” she adds. “It just seems there’s a place for a modern newspaper, which shows all the different opinions, gives lots of informed analysis, and treats people as grown-ups, who are capable of drawing their own conclusions.”