Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sunday Media Wars

I remember having a look at the last edition of the late and unlamented News of the World. Online. I couldn't quite bring myself to buy it. It was a lamentable read. I had evolved some vague notion that the demise of a newspaper was inherently a bad thing, but reading through the stories of that final NoTW and their survey of past triumphs was a depressing trawl through a litany of tawdriness and banality that had been raised to levels of shrill, trumpeted, hysterical would-be importance. It represented, it seemed to me (and I don't think I'm unduly judgmental) the apogee of humanity's lowest common denominator, and it was with a sense of relief that I reflected we would see it no more. It was, at least, one less collection of nasty, malicious pieces of paper folded into a malevolent single whole.

So forgive me for not joining in the general excitement at the Screws' resurrection tomorrow in the form of the Sun on Sunday, whose first front page exclusive concerns Amanda Holden's heart stopping for 40 seconds. Let's just remind ourselves what sort of paper it is that is about to extend its reach into Sundays. One of its former editors, and the subsequent chief executive of its parent company, was indeed briefed by police on the phone-hacking investigation that centred on her newspapers. 10 former Sun journalists have recently been arrested in a new investigation of corrupt payments to public officials by journalists. The wider realm of its parent company remains under siege too. The singer Charlotte Church has finally received a substantial payment of damages for the phone hacking she experienced - another 150 cases are said to be lining up. And the Leveson Inquiry has gradually but systematically exposed the miserable, amoral intrusions into private lives conducted by that company's papers' (and other's) reporters, to say nothing of outright lies being peddled. Meanwhile, no-one is anticipating the new Sunday paper to sell particularly well in the city of Liverpool, still smarting from its less than charitable coverage of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Hardly a dream history for a new publication.

Even so, the launch has inevitably occasioned much publicity and, of course, wary responses from the papers who still occupy the red-top market. One of these, the Daily Star Sunday, is currently hoping that a court injunction will finally be lifted preventing it reporting on the private life of a teenage rugby player who just happens to have a cabinet minister for his mother. Hollow laughter must surely have accompanied that paper's risible claims that their story was of 'national importance'. The Daily Star Sunday hasn't hitherto been noted as a brave champion of serious investigative journalism, and this latest murky foray doesn't look as if it is going to redress the balance.

But the DSS has a further trick up its sleeve, at least for the politically knowing. They have recruited 'Guido Fawkes' as a columnist. Herein lies a supreme irony; for years the Guido Fawkes blog (originally written by former Conservative Student Paul Staines, now joined by a more recent former Conservative Student, Harry Coles) put out its snippets of gossip, libertarian rantings and investigative scoops online, regularly crowing over the demise of the 'Dead Tree Press'. Not quite so dead yet, it seems, that the canny writers of the country's premier political blog don't still want a piece of dead tree action. As a fan of the blog, though, I do wonder now what they're keeping back from their online material in order to have something fresh for one of the Porn King's Sunday titles. And can they really compete with the brilliant literary genius of Jordan, recruited for a Sun on Sunday column?

UPDATE: I mentioned above the fact that the Sun on Sunday appears to be splashing with a seriously uninteresting story about over-exposed and under-talented celeb Amanda Holden. Alastair Campbell has just tweeted his belief that this must surely be a phoney front page, with the real one emerging in the second edition.

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