London today has three evening newspapers – one is a podcast called CityPM which you download on your Ipod at 5pm from the website of the morning financial freesheet CityAM; another is the Evening Standard which has been kicking around the streets of London since 1827 and costs 50p; and the latest is the new freesheet from Jonathan Harmsworth called London Lite. It will be joined next week by Rupert Murdoch’s TheLondonPaper and a pitch battle will begin.

There was a time when London had 14 evening newspapers and competition was so ferocious that newspaper sellers fought for their pitches with fists and feet and loud street cries. It is expected to be only slightly more dignified on Monday evening when the battalions of competing merchandisers clad in colourful anoraks (Rupert’s girls will probably wear purple bikinis) jostle with each other to thrust papers into the hands of the three million Londoners who funnel into the tube stations each evening.

According to reports, London Lite’s first edition has pictures of singer Kylie Minogue and Jessie Wallace, star of the London-based soap opera Eastenders on the front page, as well as a story about Ryanair Holdings Plc’s plan to offer mobile phone service on flights. Some 400,000 copies were handed out by merchandisers in two editions on Wednesday — with the first one going out at midday and the main edition from 4pm.

The new paper had a launch team of 40 journalists, which is likely to drop to 30. Rupert is planning to use only 20 journalists. Steve Auckland, head of Associated’s free newspapers division, told Press Gazette that: “There’s a misconception with free newspapers of this quality that you don’t need many staff, you just pull it all off PA (wires), resub it and lay it out. But if you are subbing something down to three or four paragraphs, it is not easy if it is 12 paragraphs long. You need to be able to sum it up in that space. On the test run last Friday, we had two exclusives in there. We will utilise the strengths of Associated titles — we’d be crazy if we didn’t.”

According to today’s Media Guardian: The high stakes battle has already led to the two sides trading verbal blows amid claims of industrial espionage. Ian Clark, general manager of News International’s free newspapers division, promised his new paper would be “genuinely different” in look and tone, and described his rival’s attempts to appeal to a young, internet-savvy audience as “a bit like watching your embarrassing uncle dancing at a wedding in his comedy socks”.

Peter Fray

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