London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

London Newspapers – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

26/08/2002, By David McIntosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 18778 votes


One of the most satisfying things about a visit to London is the opportunity to enjoy and savour what is still a very lively, vibrant and competitive newspaper scene - much like it used to be in many American cities before they become homes to the newspaper monopolies that have been one of the results of the consolidation of the media industry.

Thatís because London, unlike almost every American city, save a few, still has a number of dailies, both broadsheet and tabloid, competing and battling it out for readership and circulation. Itís not far removed from the circulation wars of another time between press barons like Hearst and Pulitzer.

And unlike American papers, which strive for a kind of homogenous neutrality, British papers take a different approach, they are not afraid to be seen occupying a particular position on the political landscape. In fact the readership of each paper expects a certain viewpoint to be expressed in their paperís pages. In turn the papers strive mightily to serve their audience and reflect their outlook on a variety of issues and a range of subjects.

Neither is a British paper shy when it comes to taking a pot shot at a competitor. When a couple of British papers decide to duke it out the best thing to do is pull up and enjoy. It makes for a lively and invigorating scene journalistically.

One reason for the vigour of British journalism is, since the UK is smaller, there still exists, unlike the United States, a number of papers that circulate nationally. Whereas only a handful of American papers can claim to be true national organs, Britain enjoys a dozen or more titles that compete for readership throughout the British Isles.

While no longer centred around Fleet Street-in the 1980s most papers moved their operations to the Docklands and other parts of London - the term Fleet Street is still used to refer to the press in Britain and in the new century Fleet Street still represents some of the best (as well as worst) in journalism.

Since most of the better hotels in London lay out a selection of broadsheets each morning for their guests, there is no better way to start a day than by spending a few moments with a cup of coffee and a selection of literate, well-written papers before setting off for a day on the town.

Letís take a few moments to become acquainted with some of the better-known mastheads of British journalism.

The Times of London - There may be a New York Times, an L.A. Times, the Washington Times and The Straits Times but there is only one paper that is called simply The Times and that paper is The Times of London (not the London Times as some mistakenly call it). Well-written editorials (or as they are called in Britain, leaders), at least one member of the House of Lords for a columnist and letters from the great and the famous - thatís what youíll find in the pages of The Times. Truly a newspaper of record; if itís not in the pages of The Times then as far as some people are concerned, it must not have happened. The voice of the British establishment. Their website has undergone a number of improvements in recent months.

The Daily Telegraph - Like the The Times a conservative viewpoint on things, but not quite as starchy. The appeal is to the English middle class and the sort of person who always nods in quiet agreement when hearing the words "there will always be an England." When the BBC failed to show proper difference after the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, the Telegraph was one of the periodicals that pointedly reminded the Corporation that British TV viewers are also British taxpayers. Features an especially lively and entertaining editorial page that includes some American journalists. The Telegraph has a colourful and especially good website - The Electronic Telegraph- where you can sign up for e-mail news updates from the United Kingdom.

The Guardian - Until moving its operations to London it was known as the Manchester Guardian. Looking for the view from the left? The spirits of Sidney and Beatrice Webb and Fabian Socialism still stalk the corridors of the Guardian. Good writing but a sometimes annoying editorial outlook that includes taking potshots at any American policy not personally vetted by its staff; when American pundits complain about the British press, theyíre talking about the Guardian. When he was young enough to still believe in utopian fantasies Malcolm Muggeridge was a leader writer for the Guardian. The Guardian Group also publishes The Observer, another old and storied name in British journalism. One of the best newspaper websites around. They may still have doubts about the free-market but the Guardian has shown no hesitation about using technology to broaden its reach.

Financial Times - In the United States businessmen read The Wall Street Journal- in the rest of the world they read that salmon coloured (not pink) paper - the FT. Very strong international coverage and more tables of business data and stock prices than you would have imagined possible - want to know what the rand is trading at, or the value of that Argentine furniture maker you just sank your retirement into? Youíll find the answer in the FT. The edition to get is Saturdayís - for many itís just not Saturday without FT Weekend (they have some of the best book and theatre reviews around as well as features unlike any to be found in any other paper). FT.com may very well be the most informative newspaper website around.

The Independent - One of the newer mastheads in British journalism; was once on rocky financial ground and there were doubts as to its survival. These days however The Independent looks to be in it for the long haul. Good news coverage and a stable of columnists worth reading, though a faint air of republicanism can be detected emanating its pages. Like its name it likes to surprise with a slightly iconoclastic attitude. Respectability with a raffish air. Also features a good website for those who like to stay up on British news.

Beyond the broadsheets there exists the world of the tabloids.

When it comes to tabloid journalism no one does it better - Fleet Street invited raucous reportage. Remember during the Falklands War when HMS Conqueror torpedoed an Argentine cruiser and a British paper printed a picture of the sinking ship on the front page with the word "Gotcha" in big letters. That was a London tabloid. Babes on page two and racing results for the bookie in all of us- it might not be very high brow but it sure is entertaining.

The "tabs" run the gamut from almost respectable to barely clearing the treetops. Among the former youíll find the Daily Express (which was once a broadsheet and still features a number of notable writers) as well as the the Daily Mail, which attempts to cover serious subject but with typical tabloid verve. Among the latter, almost all of the other titles in the tabloid category: the Sun, Mirror and the Star.

During the most recent presidential campaign The Economist compared journalists in the United States and the United Kingdom by pointing out the differences in the way they view themselves and their line of work. On the American side the journalists have been to college, dress well, view what they do as a profession and try on the whole to conduct themselves well. On the British side the reporters may not have been to college, are slovenly in appearance, think of what they do as a trade and are loud and probably drink too much.

British papers are much the same way; a diverse and sometimes noisy lot but never boring. Besides, Iíve got a suspicion that British reporters might know all the best pubs and throw better parties.

David McIntosh

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Re: London Newspapers Ė The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Sue Welling 02/09/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 17487 votes)

Thanks so much for this very informative and helpful article. I'm from the US and learning more about London and Britain. This article was very helpful for me.

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Re: London Newspapers Ė The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Chris Wood 02/09/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 17335 votes)

An interesting summary of the differences between the US and English media. As an Englishman, I have to say I prefer the American competent neutrality to the English prejudice re-inforcement.

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Re: London Newspapers Ė The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Charles Calderbank 04/09/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 17485 votes)

My wife and I really enjoyed David McIntosh's fine piece and think that it should be a required read for the entire US newspaper producing and reading community.

A very interesting and well crafted article.

I rated it a 1 yesterday with the thought that 1 was the tops.I believe that 5 is in fact the best and that is my rating. Would appreciate your adjusting your records to reflect this.

Although an ex-Mancunian,my UK daily of choice is "The Telegraph" and my wife's,"The Independent."
Having lived in the USA for almost 23 years now we do in fact read only the e-versions of those two fine publications but we still manage to get a good sense of the national pulse.

Sincerely,

Charles R.Calderbank

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Re: London Newspapers ? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Phil Rogers....Camden,SC 15/09/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 17323 votes)

A very GOOD read for everyone in the USA...I found it very enlightening. I too have found the UK papers more intriguing a read than MOST US papers. Thank You!

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Repeated Posting

By Phil Rogers....Camden,SC 15/09/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 17494 votes)

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