The obituaries to the New Day appeared before the first edition. The announcement, 49 issues later, that the paper is closing has come with little surprise. The media bubble postmortem has latched onto not what went wrong but the lunacy of launching a new for-sale paper in the first place.
Was failure really written from the beginning?
The facts speak for themselves- we all know papers are in decline. Since 2005 the circulations have dropped by up to 50% for the Guardian, 40% for the Sun and 30% for the Mail. What made the ND bold enough to defy the bleak statistics is rigorous targeting of core readers. Trinity Mirror’s research had identified a demographic that isn’t engaged by the national press. As Roy Greenslade points out in his frank skewering of the ND it is rather gutsy to pin all your hopes on getting “an audience composed of people who dislike newspapers to buy a newspaper.”
In retrospect it is easy to ridicule this as another instance where hard-nosed journalistic intuition should have trumped the McKinsey market researcher. But the ND had a point. There is a large swathe of people who aren’t bothered by papers. They didn’t switch from print to online and social- they just drifted from nowhere to a somewhere called facebook. They are women in their 40s, living in suburban Midlands and commuter belts of the South East. They are time scarce, juggling family life and work. They want their news to be informative and relevant, not polemic or gloomy.
The idea of a newspaper that could function like an analogue facebook- full of topical infographics and striking pictures – is a compelling one for people whose interface with social media is shallow at best. The sudden fluctuations in pricing the ND was confusing –but this is not an argument for why it couldn’t have worked as a for-sale paper. The i –the ND’s closest rival- has locked in its readership of northern housewives at 40p. The ND should have settled for a competitive 30p.
More profoundly, the ND didn’t follow through with its radical proposition of being different. It changed the tone of voice while still keeping to the script. If, as the research claims, its news-shy readership spend much of the day waiting in school carparks and at the checkouts then that’s exactly where the paper should have been. Visibility 101. This would have involved a more sustained marketing campaign that brought the ND into ‘normal’ spaces: the sports club, the hairdressers, community halls, churches and -crucially- homes. The ND’s problem was that it was a newspaper stacked alongside all the others.
Nor was the content brave enough. The ND’s target reader is someone who picks up the Mail but goes straight to its fluffy core, barely casting an eye over front-page rants and back page sport. Yet still the ND editors opted for a fudge, bulking up the lifestyle chat but still needing the standard top and tails. This pressure to conform was exacerbated by its printing deadlines –due to sharing its presses with the Mirror- which meant it often missed evening news and sport results covered by other papers. In a digital age all newspapers print old news. The ND had an opportunity to break away and do something else; instead it let itself slip to the end of the queue.
All of which is a crying shame. The British media is the envy of many countries but its dogged efforts to preserve the status quo is one of its more regrettable traits. New kids on the bloc rarely stand a chance. The ND was the first new national in 30 years. In Spain and France new papers emerge every few years. They don’t always have the longevity of British papers but the changing of the guards adds dynamism and challenges complacency. Given the 30 year wait for a new print national the New Day ought to have been given longer than just nine weeks.