MEDIA: Back to basics marks the latest editorial revolution

In the past week I have been rushing to pick up the morning’s papers, led by the Express, with a degree of excitement. All the evidence points one way: the national press may be in gentle circulation decline, but there is no sense that it is fading away - except perhaps in the case of the Independent whose tenth anniversary celebrations this week have been sadly lacklustre.

In the past week I have been rushing to pick up the morning’s papers,

led by the Express, with a degree of excitement. All the evidence points

one way: the national press may be in gentle circulation decline, but

there is no sense that it is fading away - except perhaps in the case of

the Independent whose tenth anniversary celebrations this week have been

sadly lacklustre.



The most startling thing about the variety of ambitious changes and

redesigns unveiled recently is that they are so editorially driven. The

fundamental message is that readers are once more being wooed with extra

editorial value, rather than slashed cover prices. For example, look at

the Express’ new Saturday magazine and the News of the World’s expanded

Sunday magazine, launched last weekend.



Both combine features with week ahead TV sections which will cause

headaches not just for direct competitors but also listings titles.

Apart from the inevitable cut-price offers for the next day’s papers,

there is little attempt to attract readers with vast cash prizes. An

offer of a free loaf at Asda for News of the World readers is as far as

it goes. In one stroke the paper eliminated the throwaway feel which

flawed its magazine.



But the real attention grabber is the new Express. This now seven-day-a-

eek title is undergoing a reallocation of resources and priorities, in

the most radical change since the title switched from broadsheet to

tabloid. It is too soon to tell if editor-in-chief Richard Addis will

pull it off, but he is having a terrific go.



Although 82 staff jobs have been cut, the savings, topped up with extra

investment to around pounds 12 million a year, are being clearly

switched into an expanded paper - with extra colour, and most

noticeably, a daily sports section, designed to differentiate it from

the Mail. Then there is the weekend package, the Saturday magazine

discussed above and the Sunday paper (we can no longer call it the

Sunday Express) with a second magazine, Boulevard (a sort of Hello!

meets a glitzy Spectator) based on celebrities.



It seems that the new management at the Express has tried to answer

that fundamental question: what are newspapers for? It has come up with

a co-ordinated seven-day answer which spans everything from news and

views to lifestyle and leisure. No part of the answer is, alas,

particularly original - bar the paper’s move away from undying support

for the Conservative Party - but the attempt to crystallise it is

intriguing. The problem is that the Express reader, to benefit, will

have to understand the mission and buy the whole package: listings on

Saturday, showbiz stars on Sunday.



Meanwhile the top team at the Express is cheerfully rubbishing the Daily

Mail as boring, and egging it into battle. I confidently predict lots

more excitement to come.



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