Sunday In The Pub With…
It appears Britain survived the easing of the Lockdown over the weekend without drunken gangs terrorising the nation. Sky News and the Daily Mail decided to run with their pre-prepared headlines of ‘brawls in Soho’ in spite of the fact that there were none and police said people generally behaved themselves.
Sunday, then, a time to once again settle down in a pub garden with the papers – except no-one does that anymore (in London at least) because the news exists online and is garnered from other sources. I’m happy reading The Conversation, Bellingcat, Unheard, Byline, Chicago-Tribune, the Guardian and the NY Times. But on a Sunday, no.
Not many people realise that the Sunday papers are entirely separate enterprises from the dailies, with different staff and different editorial stances. While the daily Times is always worth skimming, the Sunday Times is far stranger, more right-wing and downmarket, wealth and celebrity-obsessed, light on anything too thought-provoking and peppered with clickbait pieces by non-journalists like Rod Liddle and Camilla Long. We’ve come a long way from the Insight Team changing the nation’s laws with powerful investigative journalism.
In 1962, when it first arrived, the colour supplement was a game changer, although typically the British public did not initially take to it. It was created to give print advertisers their only chance to use colour to exploit the boom in consumerism that sprang up in the sixties. By the mid-80s advertising revenue was topping a million pounds in a single week and issues were regularly of 120-plus pages. Not any more. The days when you’d let a journalist take a whole year to uncover a murder story are over.
Magazines felt different and had enhanced luxury appeal. They lasted longer and were shared. Now you can go to a site like Readly and have all your lifestyle magazines available on a single subscription. Last year, every single national Sunday newspaper suffered a decline in readers.
The habit of Sunday drinks-and-papers has taken a long time to die because of all those supplements – lots of lovely colourful bits to leaf through but not actually read. And there used to be a special comics section for kiddies, before kids started turning into adults at age 4.
But supplements are no longer surprising or even interesting. They consist of 50% advertorial, sponsored or part-paid plugs, handled so subtly that you don’t even know you’re being sold something. And as no journalists or photographers are available, shots are purchased from stock suppliers and articles are bought from US papers – often they are so poorly sub-edited that dollars, spellings and measures stay in the original US formats.
The Sundays were split into two distinct groups – upmarket and downmarket. The News Of The World would routinely entrap sub-celebrities, luring them into stings and luridly publicising the results. Destroyed marriages, careers and suicides didn’t bother them because it was too expensive for individuals to sue. A vulnerable colleague of mine was illegally tricked by the paper, which sent him off to a park to meet a 22 year-old reporter posing as a 16 year-old girl. Although no laws were broken the paper managed to imply so much (by shooting their meeting through a foreground of playground swings) that his life was derailed and he never fully recovered. Their shock tactics eventually palled and the NOTW folded, while others were forced to fall back on content consisting of rehashed TV gossip.
The upmarket Sundays suffered a different fate, making themselves irrelevant in their pursuit of higher advertising revenue. Soothing stories are substituted now for anything more unsettling.
Should we be sorry to lose the Sundays? Not at all – they were always ephemeral but now they are meaningless, their news out of date, their opinions too advertiser-targeted to be taken seriously.
But – is it socially acceptable to take an iPad to the pub?