newspaper with an i for the future

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive O...

“I think we will have both [internet and print news] for quite a while, certainly ten years, some people say five. I’d be more inclined to say 20, but 20 means very small circulations.” – Rupert Murdoch

“The political and journalistic class is transfixed by a QC asking an old man questions about his engagements 20 years ago. It’s always fascinating to listen to two old generals reminiscing about the war. Meanwhile, power has taken flight. When the inquiry pronounces, it will mark the end of an era.” – Philip Collins (The Times, Friday, April 27 2012)

Amongst the oft-told tales of digitalisation of the media, phone hacking and tabloid excesses, the interesting story of the country’s newest big daily paper, the i, is forgotten. It is the only major newspaper in the country to have seen sales rise over from 2011 to 2012 (although this may be expected of a new paper) and it sells more copies than the Guardian and its sister paper the Independent. Therefore it is the highest-selling quality left-leaning paper, albeit loss-making.

The paper in its physical form mirrors news on the internet, despite not having a proper website. News websites have tried to copy the layout of physical newspapers (take a look especially at the Huff Post) online and on mobile devices; now a newspaper like the i appears to do it the other way around. The style of the opening and closing pages are similar to a news home page, showing the day’s top stories with ‘links’ to (page numbers of) the full article. One of the most interesting parts of the paper is where the paper takes about five stories and takes the views of two papers or organisations (often websites) on each of them. Again, this is similar to a Google News-style page. It is not just the layout which recognises the rise of the web in as a news source. The Sport section features the top sports tweets of the day and the price appeals to consumers who are not prepared to pay full price for news which is instantly available online (it costs 20p).

However, there is something else interesting about the i – and perhaps a reason for its appeal. Its USP is putting quality content in tabloid size. News articles are shorter than the double page spreads that appear in other broadsheets; and there is a shortened letter page and smaller opinion pieces. The popularity of the i’s condensing of the news continues the trend of other broadsheets sizing down and adding pictures. Compared to how they used to be and foreign newspapers like Le Monde, English broadsheets actually look quite simple and colourful.

I wonder whether, faced with so much news today, we want an immediate fix of news for our short attention-span. Question Time is the political programme of choice, where the audience and panellists offer short sound bites and conflicts of opinion are not nuanced. Politicians often don’t make ideological, thoughtful arguments for policies, preferring clichés and neat phrases. Twitter, used by the newsmakers and opinion-formers, does not easily allow for analysis of news.

The i is neatly manoeuvring the limbo in which newspapers find themselves. Newspapers must embrace the Internet by publishing content online and writing an increasing number of stories with a dimension that publicises news on the web (so-and-so says on Twitter etc.). However, this drives the Internet news sector further forwards, hastening the transition the newspapers must make. They must find a way to adapt online without destroying their dwindling revenue stream in the process.

With news increasingly being created by blogs, twitter and the big internet companies, the launching of the i as a physical newspaper seems crazy, especially as unlike the Sun on Sunday it didn’t already have a market or an established brand. Yet in the tumultuous news industry, it may just be a success.

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