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Monday, July 11, 2011

Keep going like this and you won't have newspapers to kick around anymore

When we were entering the 6th form they did everything they could to encourage us to read a newspaper. We were of course nudged to "take" The Guardian or The Times or the Telegraph. I think they probably knew that our parents were happy with the Yorkshire Post, which had a world view that didn't stretch much to Lancashire, let alone overseas. That was in the 60s. I started buying a paper then and carried on through the 70s, 80s and 90s to today.

I don't recall much discussion about which paper anyone read. When pressed people would repeat variants on the line that was put in the mouth of Jim Hacker in "Yes Minister", but more in amusement than in the present mood of indignation:
"I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is."

I've never known a time when people argued so bitterly about the values of different newspapers. The weird thing is that most of the people doing the arguing don't buy newspapers any more. They consult them, certainly, they scan their headlines, tweet about them and they happily link to them but they don't actually read them - not like a buyer would read them. Many of them say they won't even pay to read the news on iPad or on a Kindle version such as The Guardian has launched today. Ultimately the coming generation's unwillingness to pay is going to decide the future of newspapers more certainly than any scandals or PCC deliberations.

In the days when people bought papers they would direct at least a fiver a week towards their title of choice. You've got to sell a lot of click-through advertising and sponsorship to make up that shortfall. That's what Murdoch's corporate investors (your pension funds if you have one) have been telling him for years. This current mess only increases their determination to get out of papers altogether. Nobody's buying them, they say, and the advertisers have lots of other places to go. It's difficult to argue with that line. When the investors take flight from newspapers it will ultimately threaten the papers Twitter Nation approves of and doesn't buy just as surely as the ones it hates and doesn't buy.