What is a quality newspaper in 2014? When I came into the print industry in June 2011, The Telegraph had an ageing audience of 55+ suited men (which they proudly described as ‘elusive’ and affluent), the Guardian had barely anything in its favour at all and The Times had just gone behind a paywall, which seemed prohibitive to even the most loyal of readers. Scarcely anyone read the Independent.
Fast forward 36 months and The Telegraph has just launched a comedy football blog called Project Babb which is more popular amongst my 25 year-old-ish mates (who don’t read ‘newspapers’) than anything you’ll find on Buzzfeed or the BBC. The Guardian sells more papers than they did this time last year, and not only is The Times’ audience continuing to grow behind the paywall, but its red-top companion The Sun is also in on the act, cashing in on the benefits of a loyal and engaged readership through Sun+. The ‘Plot to buy the World Cup’ expose run by the Sunday Times recently, which has reverberated around the world, is the kind of investigative journalism that only newspapers can deliver. Unfortunately, despite some impressive work from Editor Amol Rajan, still the Independent doesn’t quite reach the same levels of readership as other major publications (although i is doing quite well for itself).
Are they newspapers? Are they ‘newsbrands’ as Newsworks will tell us? Are they simply content providers trying to reach nearly everyone in the country in one way or another? Looking at Times+ today, I found not just news, weather and sport, but also exclusive highlights of the cricket vs Sri Lanka, Premier League goal of the season content and highlights of the Aviva Premiership Final. I also have the chance to attend a ‘Private View of Discovering Tutankhamun at the Ashmolean Museum’, 2-4-1 Odeon tickets, food and drink offers and the opportunity to watch recordings of previous Times+ events with stars from Sir Dave Brailsford to Michael Sheen. All of these are exclusive to the Times+ members club, for which you even currently get an iPad mini free if you join. 12 months after opening, The Guardian’s (3-month pop-up, they claimed) café in Shoreditch Box Park remains open and seemingly busy on the odd occasion where I have cycled past. They’ve also launched brilliant new supplements on food (Cook), technology (Tech Monthly) and doing stuff (Do Something) and just last week unveiled their beautiful new responsive apps and website which have redefined the way a publisher can present content in a live, relevant and attractive form. They have even won a Cannes Lion for their creative work.
The questions that were asked of news outlets at the beginning of the digital age are only just beginning to be answered now: are news outlets equipped to deal with the twin demands of wide-ranging content and quality that will keep subscriptions and views out of the hands of their competitors?