Media Analysis: Political weeklies' healthy rivalry

As the party conference season gathers pace, Sarah Robertson asks what opportunities the magazines representing each end of the spectrum - the New Statesman and The Spectator - can offer to political PROs.

The political weeklies New Statesman and The Spectator stand at opposite ends of the party political spectrum. The effervescent Tory MP for Henley Boris Johnson has edited The Spectator for the past five years.

It is lauded by PROs and lobbyists for its entertaining style - one reason, it is suggested, for its stable circulation, which has not faltered since New Labour gained office in 1997.

The left-wing New Statesman, however, saw its circulation boosted just prior to the 1997 general election and has stayed around that level since: 'In 1995 our circulation was 15,000 but it went up to 25,000 just before New Labour was elected,' says editor Peter Wilby.

Fishburn Hedges public affairs consultant Miles Celic says: 'People have always said that what the New Statesman lacks in romance, The Spectator lacks in intellect. We now see Johnson trying to be more intellectually challenging while the New Statesman is trying to improve its arts coverage, so there is an element of them feeding off each other.'

Wide subject area

But what of opportunities for PROs? Both publications boast a list of forthcoming supplements, which cover subjects including music, entertainment, transport and the National Lottery's tenth anniversary. Their supplements are better suited for PROs to target than the main magazines, according to both Johnson and Wilby.

Four Communications head of public affairs Jeremy Fraser agrees: 'The supplements offer opportunities for PROs, especially at election time because people are thinking about politics a lot more.' While both magazines' editors say they are open to regular ideas and suggestions from PROs, sources cite, for example, the New Statesman's annual event at the Labour Party conference as a better place to further their business.

Despite their different political leanings, the magazines maintain a robust rivalry. While Wilby says The Spectator is a dentist's waiting room read, Johnson responds: 'If I was sat in a dentist's waiting room, I would rather have my teeth pulled out with pliers than read the New Statesman. It is terminally up its own backside. Everybody reads our paper, including all the Labour MPs, so I don't know who is reading the New Statesman.'


Circulation: 25,000


Editor: Peter Wilby

How do you describe your coverage?

It has a political message with an international perspective. It consists of current affairs, cultural, social and political changes. We like to hear stories and subjects that are fresh and new and will publish stories that engage with the left.

Subjects must be current or topical, with information that has authority that people will want to read.

How do you differ from The Spectator?

The Spectator does not do much to challenge the brain. It is entertaining but not worth reading at length. It is written by people in opposition and edited by someone who will remain in opposition. It has the role that Punch magazine used to play, and is good for a dentist's waiting room.

What would you like from PROs?

PROs must approach us in an imaginative way about something that the papers have not already written about. We will also look at surveys, especially on social trends or politics. I see lots of stories where people think they have found a new social group - we can potentially devote a double-page spread to do these justice and coverage such as this will lead to the nationals picking it up.

Who is a typical reader?

People working in public roles, politicians, councillors, civil servants, people in think tanks and quangos.


Circulation: 64,000


Editor: Boris Johnson

Are there opportunities for PROs in your magazine?

We are totally humble and open to suggestions that anyone has.

What is the ultimate thing a PRO can bring to The Spectator?

We are looking for bona fide ideas, but the best thing is a great scoop.

How would you describe the style of The Spectator?

Our writers feel they can be more candid with the readers than they can in other publications. It is a solid Conservative paper, but started out as a liberal free trade paper before The Economist went that way. Under (former editor) Charles Moore, it became more Thatcherite and the read of the young fogies. Under Dominic Lawson it was getting good stories. But we do not really have a doctrine - people write with different points of view.

Do you feel your magazine commands influence in the corridors of Whitehall?

Our issues do spark debate and we have a good strike rate in causing controversy, such as our expose on the Blairs using private tuition for their children, and the story about Blair expanding his role in the funeral of the Queen Mother.

How do you differ from the New Statesman?

I do not want to be drawn into any comparison... but I do think Prospect is very good, with long boring reads.

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