1980s >> 1987 >> no-994-june-1987

News on Sunday

The News on Sunday was hyped as “the paper that bites back”, “the paper that has got balls but no tits”, and “the paper that gives you the naked truth not naked women”. It is financed by trade unions and left wing local authorities. It has an Editorial Charter which espouses a series of “ideologically sound’ causes: it is anti-sexist, anti-racist, in favour of a united Ireland, concerned about the environment, the poor, the Third World, it will support workers taking industrial action, and so on. It has an impressive list of journalists, mostly collected from other left wing magazines and “radical” publications. But even before the first issue was printed it had lost a few including John Pilger. The News on Sunday has a recruitment policy that aims at achieving a target of 52 per cent women and 10 per cent blacks and is castigating itself for not yet having achieved this target.

It also had an initial target circulation of around 800,000 and its failure to achieve that target led to some rather more serious soul-searching —like whether the paper can afford to continue. Because although the paper might have the right “leftist” credentials and an “ideologically correct” editorial policy, this does not alter the fact that the paper itself has so far been profoundly disappointing. The newspaper that promised us the “naked truth” in fact contains very little in the way of news. Their advertising hype had suggested that we might expect “in-depth” investigation of issues that concern ordinary people without the right-wing or conservative filter that operates on most newspapers. Instead, issues like the Third World, ecology, health and welfare are used as convenient pegs on which to hang romanticised guff about “heroic struggles” of working people. The causes that produce the heroes may be different from the other tabloids — Nicaraguan peasants, not the Falkland Islanders — but the journalistic style and sentiments are similar. Short sentences. Tear-jerking emotional stories. Little analysis. Over-simplistic assertions.

The News on Sunday is explicitly aimed at manual workers, blacks and women and is courting the readership of the Sunday Mirror — supporters of the Labour Party, trade unionists — workers who, it is argued, want more than tits and bums and naughty vicars from their Sunday newspaper. However, the News on Sunday quite clearly also thinks that anyone who fits into this marketing category is unable to cope with news presented straight, without appeals to emotion or ideological rectitude — a truly alternative newspaper.

The new information technology which made the News on Sunday possible is not being used to produce a new radical, alternative newspaper. Even if that promise had been fulfilled there would still have been enormous problems. Newspapers, unless there is someone willing to subsidise them, must run at a profit. Most newspapers rely heavily on advertising revenue to make money and advertisers are in a strong position to influence the editorial stance taken. But the News on Sunday is unlikely to lose advertising of its “left-wing” stance. It will lose advertising because its circulation is too low to make it worthwhile for companies to advertise in it. The only people that the News on Sunday is likely to upset are the people who spent 35p on it thinking they would get a different kind of newspaper only to find that it was a paper without news but with a lot of patronising moralism instead.

Janie Percy-Smith