One of the most significant developments in the past month has been
the Sun’s decision, with Sky, to sign up columnist Richard Littlejohn in
a million pound deal, wooing him back from the Daily Mail.
It’s a signal that the tabloids are desperately looking for a fix to
rescue them from long-term circulation decline. Without Princess Diana,
and only occasional misbehaviour from sons of Cabinet ministers to look
forward to, it seems they may have decided to return to basics;
forthright opinion and, perhaps, better writing to fill their pages.
Littlejohn’s extreme rewards show there is a desperate need for pungent
views, improved feature writing and proper journalism, rather than soapy
stunts and television-derived ideas. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest
1998 will see the reinvention of the tabloid agenda. But someone will
eventually come along to force the pace.
It was also interesting to see Lynda Lee-Potter’s appearance in the
recent Honours List, after 30 years of service as a columnist. Where are
even hugely successful papers like the Mail going to find the new,
mainstream writing stars - people prepared to graft away and not drift
into broadcasting? Media owners are worried, especially since attempts
to mould show business stars into columnists has largely petered
Talent, and how to attract and keep it, has become a major talking
point, from the smallest PR agency to the BBC.
Commercial radio, for example, says its expansion is constrained by
problems in developing really talented presenters. At the extreme level
of the current Chris Evans/Virgin deal, presenter power can even buy you
the station. Perhaps we need, not media studies courses, but some kind
of media Fame school. Training is certainly moving up the agenda fast:
Channel 4’s new licence provides a fixed budgetary commitment.
The second pointer for 1998 lies in the increased marketing every media
group is currently plotting. This meshes with the imminent expansion of
capacity that digital technology will start to deliver in the form of
new channels ever more stream-based information this year. In other
words, in a crowded market with much inferior product, how do you
I’ve just spent a day at Radio 5 Live looking at the efforts there. If
you see bright yellow jackets with pink streaks in front of you at a
football match, you will be in the presence of their staff. Yellow and
pink, apparently, spell danger and will feature on every kind of Radio 5
promotion and merchandise.
ITV will next week unveil its strategy to promote itself as a single
popular channel, reducing yet further the identity of individual
franchise holders. All national newspapers are defensively planning new
year pushes, most notably the Times with its new Saturday package. 1998
promises to be a busy year. Can’t wait!