Tuesday, October 26, 2010

i whirl

Ten years ago, as a mere pup in media studies tutorials, the perceived wisdom passed down through my scrawled handwriting was "Newspaper industry in bit of a bind, internet threat not serious enough to change things around".

This was the year 2000, within touching distance of Diana's death but prior to 11th September 2001, when the Internet's news coverage grew in depth and stature, a development which has continued largely to the detriment of the printed word. At the turn of the century, Internet news coverage was rudimentary, basically computer versions of the printed editions without the foresight (or frankly the bandwidth) to allow readers to comment and feedback. Without blogging, Facebook or Twitter, the news agenda was considered safe from virtual attack, with the world wide web considered largely benign, as much a companion as the radio.

Following the conclusion of my studying years, the relationship between newspapers and the on-line world has drastically altered. All but one broadsheet has changed shape, Rupert Murdock now locates his newspapers' on-line content behind paywalls, while the Evening Standard is now a freesheet. Amongst the shapeshifting broadsheets in the UK is The Independent, famously regarded by Tony Blair as a 'viewspaper' for its sidestep away from mainstream current affairs in favour of one-story front pages and increased commentary. Certainly distinctive - the front page is meant to resemble a computer desktop - the Indie would divide more opinion were it enjoying comfortable readership figures. It ain't. Sales have been plummeting for years. Lord only knows what the former Prime Minister makes of what the Indie has done now...

Today saw the launch of i - should that be "i"? Or i? I notice housestyles across the web cannot agree - the new 20p-daily for busy people who need to be tempted back into 'quality' journalism. For the same coverprice as a redtop, i is a similar digest model as those compendium Guardians or weekly Telegraphs available to ex-pats on the Costas. Except the latter probably would not splash "Is Bert Gay?" on the front page of the launch issue....

On the whole, i seems to have been well received on its first day. I gave up with the Independent many moons ago, finding its tone to have become increasingly preachy and most of the commentators indistinct. i features a piece on Obama by Johann Hari, who has reverted to the intelligent young thing who impressed before turning into the very worst kind of rent-a-quote reactionary. The new take on TV listings - ranking suggestions by genre - uses the lack of space very well, and I suspect many a student household will welcome bookmark recipes for reasonable cost. Sport coverage, for a weekday, seems reasonable although the test will come on Monday. Will the PoliticsHome style 'matrix' manage with a full weekend of football to review? Should the decision be made to provide only pencil sketch articles on the big games to show the distinctive move away from traditional newspaper 'norms', I would be impressed all the more....though would obviously have to find my fix of sporting headlines elsewhere.

i has already made its mark on the timeline of newspaper history. Although newspapers still make and break the news agenda - when was the last time you watched a 'review of the morning blogs' on breakfast television? - sites such as Guido Fawkes, Huffington Post and The Daily Beast have proven tails can threaten to wag their respective dogs. i therefore has to be considered a remarkable gamble, launching a print newspaper in a climate seemingly set against the market even existing in 2020. There are too many safe and familiar choices - oh look, Su Doku hasn't died - and yet its approach and agenda appear interesting and relevant. The proof, of course, is within all those exceptions which prove rules. "Commutersheets" like Metro are free; how i copes amongst the platform market in 12 months time will be the guide to how long there is left amongst the business model as a whole.

Tomorrow is the biggest test of the tiny life of i; how many curious readers from today will part with their coffee machine money tomorrow? It seems to have Twitter largely on its side, the reviews have been pretty positive, and even my office kinda liked it....So here's to i lasting at least until at least the new year, ten years on from the event which altered media completely, one tiny British newspaper possibly changing the industry in its own little way...