News International announced the closure of freesheet The London Paper yesterday, much to the surprise, it would seem, of the paper’s staff. For all the competition and ego that exists in the trade, it’s always sad when a publication closes, because it can mean real hardship for real people.
It had also been good to see an alternative voice on London’s streets of an evening, even if it was one backed by another multinational media baron. The London Paper set out its stall as a paper which would celebrate London, in contrast to the mix of miseribalism and alarmism – and occasionally downright nastiness – which was the Evening Standard‘s template. Its influence can be seen in both the design and the new positive tone of the new Evening Standard, although this week’s ‘Swine flu: Mass graves plan’ headline was a bit of a blast from the past.
All that said, I never found very much to read in either The London Paper or its rival London Lite – although doubtless the respective editors would say that their products were intended to be browsed rather than read – and the new Standard is, well, a bit bland and more than a little bit posh.
Shift in thinking
It’s possible the closure is a result of a shift of thinking within News International, with new Chief Executive Rebekah Wade rumoured to be no fan of freesheets, and the company flagging up its intention to introduce paywalls on its websites. The view that ‘why should we give away what we produce?’ seems to be sweeping the Murdoch empire.
What I find interesting is that, some years ago, freesheets were being held up as an example of the way forward. Traditional journalism was doomed, we were told by traditional journalists, and a new wave of free publications would sweep all before it. If that sounds at all familiar it’s because the same arguments are being used about web-based media now. And in an ironic twist, the argument that the web will sweep all before it will be posited as a reason why the previous ‘thing that would sweep all before it’ has been, er, swept before.
None of this is to belittle the enormous changes that are taking place. But the end of yesterday’s ‘next big thing’ does seem to me to underline the folly of the Fraser/Whitehouse school of media commentary – one which either cries “We’re doomed” in the manner of Dad’s Army‘s Private Fraser, or “Brilliant!” like Paul Whitehouse’s cult Fast Show character at every new development.
We continue to live in interesting times, and there are plenty of twists to come.