Monday, January 29, 2007

Sour times

The Sunday Times took a huge swipe at The Guardian yesterday.

The paper laid into The Guardian accusing its Berliner relaunch of being a failure, saying that it was looking tired and old, and that there was discord at senior levels about the digital future of the paper. Ouch.

The piece sketched a number of storm clouds ahead for Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, not least of which is dwindling online classified revenues at Guardian Media Group cash cows such as Trader Media Group, which owns Auto Trader, not to mention Society and Media Guardian for jobs. It went so far to go right over the top and suggest that "the looming classified crisis threatens to put the business on the skids".

The piece, which damns the Berliner as being slightly larger than the Daily Mail, and lauds the cheaper conversion by The Independent in 2003 before adding that The Times moved successfully to compact format the following year (although, let’s face it, it is one of the dullest rebrands a paper has ever had in merely copying the Indie -- which loathe it or loathe it [sorry I mean like] did break new ground).

It goes on to say that The Independent and The Times are both taking sales from The Guardian. Although I'm not sure how -- in December, The Times' circulation was down by 3.9% to 635,777, while The Guardian fell by 4% to 365,635. Admittedly the Guardian was down, but no way did the Times take those sales.

While The Guardian is damned, its sister title The Observer is praised and Roger Alton "is now widely seen as having produced a better paper with the new format".

It quotes an unnamed media "pundit" saying "The Guardian is boring and already tired-looking, whereas The Observer has become a lot livelier. Worse for The Guardian in some ways is that The Independent is punchier and has achieved success at a much lower cost."

No that's just plain wrong, the Independent is dull dull dull. Interesting one-trick pony frontpages, but if you want news -- go elsewhere. So much for punditry. Despite producing a good paper, Alton's job is reported to be on the line, with Ian Katz, long seen as a replacement for Rusbridger, as the one who might get it.

The Sunday Times then moves on to the Guardian Unlimited, which remains one of the best newspaper sites around and says that poor integration is causing friction with Rushbridger wanting them closer together and Emily Bell, editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited, resisting. The paper has done a great job online and while sometimes you wonder about a design revamp, is more integration what’s needed?

There is more from the Sunday Times, which I suppose is worth noting, but its only contribution to fresh newspaper development is to stick its cover price up to £2 without offering anything much new in return.

Read the rest of the Sunday Times piece here.

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