RIP thelondonpaper – Where now for free news?

tlp dead

When thelondonpaper sized up to London Lite in September 2006 it really was a case of ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.’ The showdown between two media titans was mouth-watering: Murdoch vs Daily Mail, the fight of the century.

Today’s closure of Murdoch’s freesheet is sad news for media competition in the capital, (not to mention the 60-odd journalists who made it) but in many ways the main surprise is that it took this long for one of the competing titles to fold. It seemed illogical that both could occupy the same patch in very similar styles for so long, but the disclosure of thelondonpaper’s annual losses in August made for a sobering read. Put simply, both sides have been taking considerable losses just for the strategic advantage. I seem to remember a lecture at City where Roy Greenslade called it a ‘brutal turf war’ .

As it stood, they couldn’t both pull a profit, so it was only matter of time before someone blinked first. Whilst £13m per year may seem like a lot to lose, News International (Rupert Murdoch’s multi-national behind thelondonpaper) were willing to take the hit if it meant they could corner off a growing market and take on The Evening Standard (who, like London Lite and The Daily Mail, are owned by DMGT).

This summer has seen something of a sea-change at News International, however, and with his decision to start charging for timesonline.co.uk and sun.co.uk, it rather seems that Mr Murdoch has gone off the idea of giving away journalism for free. This would make perfect business sense, if it weren’t for that pesky BBC News website…

In the long run we may not have seen the last of thelondonpaper – David Crow at City AM speculates that Metro could yet face a fresh challenge to their morning freesheet monopoly in April 2010, when their London tube distribution contract comes up for renegotiation. Furthermore, he argues that London Lite will follow suit and close as well, having seen off the main threat to the Evening Standard. Despite their best efforts to take advertising to new heights, neither London Lite or thelondonpaper have managed to turn a profit, so maybe the lesson here (and from Metro’s financial performance) is that the morning slot is the only profitable realm for free newspapers.

For the time being, the result will be celebrated as a big victory at DMGT. Other beneficiaries include Free Newspapers Cost The Earth who point out the environmental effect of all that waste paper, but I would argue that the closure of thelondonpaper is a big loss for the average London commuter.

From what I gather, thelondonpaper is the more popular choice and many enjoyed comparing and contrasting the two papers and their coverage of stories. So as a parting salute to thelondonpaper, I’ve decided to try my first online poll (below). Let me know whether you’ll miss thelondonpaper, or if you prefer London Lite, or if you simply don’t waste your time on freesheets at all.

Product Placement – Is It Really That Bad?

So news came through over the weekend that the government has finally ceded to pressure from broadcasters and decided to drop the ban on product placement in commercial programming in the UK.

This is news that can be taken in one of two ways – at first I recoiled in mock horror, imagining the potential sway corporate brands could be granted over the public’s subconscious, but it is becoming more and more apparent to me that this is a necessary evil.

The name of the game's placement, product placement (photo: guardian.co.uk)
The name of the game’s placement, product placement (photo: guardian.co.uk)

It’s easy to get all riled up over the intrusion of brand names into your favourite films and TV shows, but think back to these most blatant examples of product placement – James Bond’s latest mobile phone or watch, Pepsi in Back To The Future, even the humble Sara Lee gateau in Peep Show. The most likely response in each case is mild derision, not an uncontrollable urge to go out and by the product in question.

Product placement is cheesy and obvious – it’s not brainwashing, it’s not even subliminal messaging.

It will be interesting to see how the ad men attempt to take advantage of this change in policy. Will Jeff Stelling start prominently drinking PG Tips on Countdown? Don’t worry, the BBC isn’t eligible due to its publicly-funded status, so we won’t be seeing punters in the Queen Vic drinking Strongbow (liquid refreshment) or eating McCoys (man crisps).

David Elstein argues persuasively that product placement is nothing to be feared in this column for The Times, but then again he would, being a former chief executive of Channel Five. He makes a good point – the government’s nannying intervention is condescending to us as viewers who can be trusted to think for ourselves. But I shudder when Elstein refers to us all as consumers.

Don’t be fooled – there is an inherent threat to the integrity of programmers in this decision, which will have to be stoutly resisted by those in charge, but if this is what’s needed to keep ITV and Channel 4 afloat, then so be it. The long-term, lingering issue is how to ensure ad revenue as viewers head online for the on-demand convenience of iPlayer and channel4.com. That is a serious dilemma for all major media providers at the moment, but that’s another blog post for another time…

N.B. This blog is not commercially supported in any way by any of the aforementioned brands… yet.

My new job? Looking for a job

The first day in a new job is always hard; I’m anxious and uneasy, but I think I’m up to the task. That’s right, I’ve got a job. My new job is looking for a job.

Coffee: My new work colleague
Coffee: My new work colleague

I’ve been dreading this for a while like the inevitable onset of Swine Flu or the new Lady Gaga single, but I think the best way to look at it is in the context of any other job. They pay isn’t great (non-existent even), but we journalists should be used to that. My commute is quite manageable: just five seconds from my bed to my desk. There are other perks – listening to Radiohead in my slippers, for example. The canteen is cheap, and if the food is rubbish I only have one person to blame. Best of all I can sneak in a quick blog post during my lunch hour (plenty more of these to come – you lucky devils!).

I honestly believe that optimism is the only way to stay sane in the recession, but I’m not deluding myself. The bottom line is I need a real job, I’ve got a bit of freelance work in the pipeline, but at my age I doubt I’ve got the contacts to make that pay the rent. I know finding work in this economic climate is not going to be easy, but I think the best way to approach it is 9 to 5, focused on the task, with the minimum of distractions.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better get back to work before my boss yells at me.