I am loath to cock a snook at a fellow Crikey scribe plying their
thankless trade but I was mildly underwhelmed by Sophie Vorrath’s
article in Friday’s Crikey Daily (item 16, “Rupert’s at it again: here comes another
London newspaper war”) about Murdoch’s new freesheet The London
Paper
.

Having worked in Fleet
Street last century (the Daily Mail in
the mid-1970s) and having recently returned from an extended sabbatical in sunny
Europe, I am absolutely fascinated by the prospect of
another London newspaper war and its implications for
journalism and global media economics. More’s the pity
then that we were only given less than half the story.

The original irritant in the yarn was the claim that The Evening
Standard
was one of two “free dailies” owned by Associated
Newspapers in the UK capital. It wasn’t when I worked for the
company and it isn’t now. It actually costs 40p to get one out of the grubby
hands of the Thames-side
street vendors and it presently sells an average of
309,908 copies a day. This is a
circulation figure and revenue income not to be sneezed at in
Australia where, setting to one side the commuter freebies, we no longer have a serious evening paper.

First, a few facts about the
Eenin
Stannad
“, as the Londoners still call it in their quaint local
dialect. It began as The Standard
on 21 May,
1827. In the beginning of the 20th century the paper was owned
by Canadian tycoon Lord Beaverbrook, who also owned the Daily Express (the deadly Fleet Street rival to Lord
Northcliffe’s Daily Mail).
At this time (which must be journalism’s great purple patch), there were 14
evening newspapers in London, but one by one they merged until there were three
left.

The Star
merged with the Evening News in
1960, and the two remaining papers were great rivals until they shared ownership
in the 1980s. In 1980, the Evening
News
was incorporated into the Evening Standard, leaving
London with one single
evening paper.

It
publishes four editions each day (the great
Melbourne Herald used
to do six), from Monday to Friday. The first of these is officially timed for
8am and is available around
11am in shops in greater
London. A second edition is
available in the central area, and the third, “West End Edition”, circulated
more widely to include the suburbs, available from around 3pm. The last edition “West End Final” is timed to catch
the commuter market, and obviously carries the latest news. This edition is
available from 5pm in the central
area and around 7pm outside the
central area.

Since
December 2004, it has also produced a freesheet
version of the paper called Standard Lite
which is available for pick-up outside tube stations between 12-noon and
2pm. This works as a
teaser for the real thing in much the same way that FTpm,
a two page A4 flyer, is distributed in the City as a teaser for tomorrow’s Financial Times. Of
course, FTpm is also that
paper’s response to the phenomenal success of CityAM,
a specialist freesheet distributed to people arriving
for work every morning in the City of
London and
Canary
Wharf.

The Evening
Standard
is a very upmarket publication befitting a sophisticated
European capital, as this theatre review from Friday
shows. It has sponsored the annual Evening
Standard
Theatre Awards since the 1950s. The newspaper has also
awarded the annual Evening
Standard
Pub of the Year and the British Film Awards since the
1970s.

It is most unlikely that the Standard
will drop its standards to cope with the Dirty Digger’s bogan blitz on greater
London’s eyeballs with
a Pommy version of MX .
More than likely it will drop its 40p cover price – sometimes reduced for a day
to 20p – to zero (in which case, Sophie will be proved retrospectively right).
The Harmsworth family, who own Associated Newspapers
(through the Daily Mail and General Trust which, in turn, owns 64 radio
stations in Australia), may just decide to stare down the Murdoch family in the
first great newspaper war of the century.

Peter Fray

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