Media: Profile - Paul Spike, editor, Punch - Packing an investigative punch

There’s a story about Punch that, after the third edition in 1841, someone wrote in complaining that the magazine wasn’t as funny as it used to be.

There’s a story about Punch that, after the third edition in 1841,

someone wrote in complaining that the magazine wasn’t as funny as it

used to be.



And that’s been Punch’s problem throughout its troubled 150-year

life.



It carries so much historical criticism that anyone taking on the job of

editing the title is going to be instantly carped about before anyone’s

read a word.



Paul Spike, Punch’s new editor, knows this. He’s bringing in a series of

sweeping changes in the 21 May issue and is anxious to avoid all

preconceptions.



’Punch is probably one of the best-known titles in the world,’ he says,

somewhat ruefully. ’It carries untold baggage but that’s why we’re not

calling this a re-launch. September last year, when Punch came back to

life, was the re-launch. We won’t have a huge advertising and

promotional campaign. It’ll be a longer-term job.’



Even though he isn’t calling it a re-launch, that would be a pretty fair

description of what’s going on. From the week of 19 May, Punch changes

its publication day from Friday to Wednesday, its cover price from

pounds 1.75 to pounds 1 and its entire editorial philosophy from rather

crusty old title to investigative, satirical humour magazine.



’We’re dropping the cover price because pounds 1 is the kind of money

you’d spend if you were just passing a news-stand on your way to or from

work,’ says Spike. ’A Wednesday magazine is the kind of title that might

make it into the office to get passed around rather than just getting

taken home, as you would on Friday. We’re changing the editorial to make

it the kind of magazine that most dentists would have to think long and

hard about before putting in their waiting room.’



Spike’s used to writing the sort of stuff that scares dentists. He hit

the ground running in journalism while at Columbia University in the

late 1960s when he wrote for the Village Voice about the anti-war and

civil rights protests. This theme was to provide the inspiration for his

second novel, Photographs Of My Father, about the murder of his civil

rights activist father.



Not surprisingly, he is keen to move Punch away from its role as an

establishment journal.



’I want to make Punch funny and relevant,’ he says. ’It needs to get

closer to the satirical and investigative edge, much more than it ever

has this century. The magazine started out as a gadfly on the

establishment but it became so safe and humourless. We’ve got Dominic

Prince over from the Express to head up our investigative team. He’s the

man who broke all the Asil Nadir stories, and we want to break as many

stories as we can.’



Comparisons with Private Eye instantly spring to mind and Spike accepts

this. ’We all think Private Eye is a great magazine and we all read it

but we’re not trying to imitate it,’ he says. ’We think there’s room for

both of us. For one thing, we’ll be glossy and colour and we won’t be so

beholden to the world of newspapers.’



Of course, there’s one Punch tradition that Spike won’t be able to do

away with altogether. It’s only a matter of time before someone tells

him the magazine isn’t as funny as it used to be.



HIGHLIGHTS



1990: Restaurant critic, Vogue



1995: Editor, special projects Conde Nast



1997: Consultant editor, Punch



1997: Editor, Punch.



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