MEDIA: What surprises lie in store for media in the year ahead?

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.

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

out.



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

attract attention?



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!



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