MEDIA: SUNDAY TABLOIDS - Something extra for the weekend? The apppointment of a new editor at the News of the World has shaken up the Sunday red top market, as rivals batten down for a circulation war

Rebekah Wade’s appointment as editor of the News of the World had Fleet Street gossiping for a week. The speculation has been frantic, not least because Wade is keeping her thoughts firmly to herself.

Rebekah Wade’s appointment as editor of the News of the World had

Fleet Street gossiping for a week. The speculation has been frantic, not

least because Wade is keeping her thoughts firmly to herself.

Was Wade’s appointment a gambit to prevent her departure from the News

International stable after friction with Sun editor David Yelland and

fulfill ambitions for an editorship? Or was it that the demand for Blue

Peter presenters snorting cocaine is diminishing and with it, former

editor Phil Hall’s reputation?

What is clear is that Wade’s editorship is going to produce changes

which coincide with some savage marketplace fluctuations. The News of

the World’s circulation has been falling since Phil Hall took over the

reins, dropping from 4.78 million to 3.8 million.

At the same time, rivals at Mirror Group’s Sunday Mirror have stemmed

the flow of departing readers and may even begin to add readers in the

next quarter. Overall, however, the three red tops - Mirror, People and

News of the World - have been in decline for 30 years.

Ironically, most tabloids benefit from broadsheet readers buying a

second paper on a Sunday and that second paper purchasing decision is

usually made in the newsagents. The tabloid front page story then

becomes paramount, but the demands of the readership are changing as the

newspapers realise that the traditional, older, downmarket male reader

is no longer a viable long term core. Thus, Wade and her rivals at

Mirror Group are looking to trim the vibrant circulation figures of the

Sunday Express and the Mail on Sunday by stealing women readers. This

suggests that the celebrity coke binge story may be receding from the

head lines, although publicists warn that this should not encourage

celebrity PROs to relax.

’The red top papers are still primarily about expose,’ says Mark

Borkowski, managing director of Borkowski Press and PR. ’The journalist

will have spent so much time putting the story together that by the time

they ring you they are going to run the story whatever you do.

’Some publicists try to bargain the story out of the paper but it’s like

turning a super tanker. If your client is 100 per cent certain that the

story is false and that it’s a stitch-up, get on to the libel lawyers

straight away. As a publicist, you do build up contacts with journalists

on the Sunday tabloids but it is always wise to understand that those

contacts are different to relationships with other newspapers.’


ABC: 1,888,710

Position: Editor

’The Sunday tabloid market has never been more competitive. It is

estimated that more than six million people regularly work on a Sunday,

most of whom are tabloid readers. The Saturday papers, with their

multiple sections and colour magazines, have become the original Sunday

papers. Why do they want to buy a paper on Sunday when they haven’t had

time to read Saturday’s? It is no longer a simple case of Sunday as a

day of rest.

’Newspapers are fighting for customers like every other business. When I

took over the Sunday Mirror in April 1998, the previous year-on-year

circulation decline was nearly 11 per cent. It is now down to a

year-on-year running average of a half a per cent.

’It had eight editors in six years, a period of incredible instability

both for the staff and its readers. It needed a clear redirection. The

staff needed to know exactly what the paper stood for and so did its six

million loyal readers. It needed strong, exclusive news coverage,

well-written intelligent features, vibrant sport and good


’There is more blue water between ourselves and the News of the World.

We still cover sex and scandal but in a more intelligent and mature way.

The paper is not complete but it is on the right track.’


ABC: 1,514,798

Position: Editor

’Tabloid readers are more sophisticated, more demanding and more

intelligent than they were even 10 years ago. There is so much more to

distract them now - the mid-markets are obsessed by showbiz ; all three

commercial terrestrial channels are saturated with tabloid TV, and Sky

has rewritten the soccer programmes to the massive detriment of Sunday


The challenge for Rebekah Wade, me and every other tabloid editor today

is: ’what can I do that is new and interesting?’. Do we need to

re-invent the wheel?

’The most successful non-promoted issues we’ve run in the last six

months could be described as classic tabloid fare. We covered Martine

McCutcheon topless with her new lover and Sporty Spice’s change of

shape. But stories like that don’t come along every week and the rest of

the package has to make up for it.

’Features, investigations, thought-provoking think pieces - they all

need to be top quality. Too often in the past red tops have relied on a

sensational front page then failed to deliver inside. If we can get that

balance right, it will make a huge difference. It would also help to

have the Mail on Sunday’s brilliant, but incredibly costly magazines,

the News of the World’s vast spending power and the Sun’s endless supply

of expensive marketing.’


ABC: 1,003,186

Position: Executive editor

’The Sunday red tops and the News of the World in particular have barely

changed in years. There is little acknowledgement that readers’

interests have broadened. Everyone expects sumptuous magazine

supplements these days: any editor wishing to claw back market share has

to offer that.

’The front of the red tops are usually brilliantly designed but the

inside pages are such a jumble of type. They can’t sustain their market

share without pulling in young people. But the sort of young people who

ought to buy the News of the World don’t like reading and are superbly

served by television. I’m also baffled by the sort of people they turn

over - does anyone really care about Johnny Walker?

’I hate the term mid-market. The Sunday Express aims to produce a paper

with universal appeal - that works for broadsheet and red top


’I am delighted with our current package: we have the biggest sports

section in Fleet Street at 40 pages; a new-look magazine with seven-day

TV listings, and a broadsheet city and personal finance section. In

April the Sunday Express showed a circulation increase of 1.46 per cent

on the same period last year and a 4.54 per cent increase on March.’

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in