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?

15 comments on “Sunday In The Pub With…”

  1. Jo W says:

    Take an i-pad to a pub? Depends how old it is and only if it buys its round of drinks.

  2. tony williams says:

    Living in boston yes it’s ok to take an iPad to the bar/pub/brunch place on Sunday. You’re right about the Sunday’s: they have been getting increasingly like the depths of social media. But I do fondly recall Sundays in charming pubs on a river reading them, taking hours, a few pints. Was the world made better: no. But it was fun, and is gone.

  3. Liz Thompson says:

    I’ve sat in a hotel bar with my iPad, but only because everyone else was glued to the rugby final.

  4. Brooke says:

    Your colleague’s story sounds like the case of Basil Thomson; he recovered his reputation.
    On this side of pond, as far as I can understand young bar culture, iphone is de rigueur. ipad is elitist. But we don’t have real pubs–just fake ones with Irish names; all owned by conglomerate.

  5. Jan says:

    From what i can see down ‘ere it’s virtually essential to have a a smartyphone/ i pad
    (Or similar!) to fit in @ the pub.

    Hope u r doing ok.

  6. Peter T says:

    Newspapers: they still sort of exist as I’ve seen them in doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms and a few Caffè. They serve to pass a few minutes, but books provide a better quality of fiction and are as useful for news.

  7. Brian Evans says:

    I’d rather be seen with a tablet in the pub than The Daily Mail.

  8. Debra Matheney says:

    I remember when reading the Sunday Los Angeles Times took all day, as there was so much of interest. The NY Times was even thicker and took longer to devour. Now I can get through both in a couple of hours. Yes, I still get paper copies delivered to my house as I would miss the ritual of reding a paper.
    I read other papers (Guardian, Financial Times, Washington Post) online.
    I vote take what ever device you want to a pub, but agree it should buy a round.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Right on Debra. We get a daily paper, too, but I certainly don’t read it all through the way I used to. The New York Times had an article and now, I understand, a second one that I would like to read but my clipping service has fallen down on the job and I will have to look it up on line. Everyone seems to take smart phones to the coffee shops (where we seem to gather) so why not take an ipad? We’re losing the few good coffee shops and even fewer real pubs due to the covid19 regulations. Our health people seem determined to keep our province safe.

  10. Martin Tolley says:

    Can’t mop up beer spills with an ipad – or is there an app?

  11. Liz Thompson says:

    Martin, if you get a fabric iPad cover, you can mop up the beer spills!

  12. Martin Tolley says:

    Liz, but it’d smell for ages and Mrs T, who has an inbuilt detection system to rival that of the Hubbel telescope, would know for sure where I’d been. I have to turn off GPS on my tablet as it is.

  13. Dave Young says:

    When reading the Daily Mail – or its Sunday counterpart – in public I recommend folding it within a pornographic magazine to avoid social embarassment

  14. David Ronaldson says:

    The problem with (or bonus of) the ipad, is that nobody can see how cerebral your reading is. Plus, the Observer is better at mopping up spilled beer.

  15. I wonder if newspapers will exist at all in 20 years ? The tabloids are increasingly cheap and nasty but the I suppose the UK gets the newspapers it deserves by buying them.

    Nick Davies wrote two fine books in this vein which are a bit out of date but still worth reading : Flat Earth News and Hack Attack.

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