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Look who’s keeping the tabloid alive

Former regional newspaper reporter and chief sub-editor Bryan Jones looks at how tabloids are surviving and thriving thanks to the super soaraway world of internal communications…

When was the last time I put my hand in my pocket and handed over real cash for a newspaper?

I was pretty sure it was a couple of years ago when I shelled out for a Sunday Telegraph. I’d been reminiscing with Mrs J about the years before children, when we would have time to sit and read beautifully crafted articles over a coffee and a gluten-free croissant. I bought it as a bit of a sickly joke.

Then I remembered it was actually last summer when I picked up a paper for the first Mrs J – my dear old mum – who was being looked after in hospital and couldn’t get hold of her regular fix of the Daily Express. She only ever read the Express. Sadly, the first Mrs J’s no longer with us, though she’s remembered with great fondness.

There were times when I couldn’t get through a day without reading at least four newspapers. I’m from a tabloid background, and one of my jobs as chief sub-editor of (what was then) one of the country’s most successful regional dailies was to make sure we were on top of all the latest stories, as well as keeping a check on who was doing what in terms of content and design.

That’s little more than ten years ago. It’s remarkable how quickly things have changed.

I had a close-up view when the wheels started to come off the high-speed train that was the UK newspaper business. No-one really imagined t’interweb would have such an immediate and devastating impact on the industry – but it turned out to be something of a perfect storm.

Already circulations were falling. Editors with furrowed brows pointed to the UK’s changing demographic, said people didn’t have enough time to read, cited competition from other sources of news, and blamed the rise of free papers – among other things.

But the real body-blow for regional print newspapers was early in the 2000s, when estate agents and motor dealers realised advertising on the internet was a great way of selling houses and cars. Then the final nail in the coffin came when the high-profit ‘sits vac’ job pages started to disappear too, with organisations finding cheaper and more efficient ways to recruit.

In the mid-1990s, the Coventry Evening Telegraph, where I spent many years (some of them even happy), had a circulation of almost 90,000 copies a day – latest figures show that’s now just above 18,000.

What we’re left with is a ruined regional press trying desperately to hold on to a few loyal readers via their under-powered online offerings.

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So it was no real surprise that Trinity Mirror’s The New Day (pictured right) – a print-only national newspaper – struggled to hit ambitious circulation figures of 200,000. It closed recently just a couple of months after its launch.

It wanted to be seen as fresh and different and appeal to a new audience, but ended up attracting a daily readership of around 40,000. It never really hit the sweet spot in terms of content or design.

But what’s great to see is that in the internal communications world, at least, there’s still a huge appetite for the tabloid format. And there are young writers, designers and editors keeping the spirit of the tabloid alive – very often in really striking and innovative ways.

For some companies, a bright, breezy tabloid newspaper or magazine is still the best way to keep their employees engaged, entertained and informed.

Publications are being produced by hugely enthusiastic teams dedicated to making sure news and feature stories have the right angle, the tightest intros, the neatest sub-heads and the most striking headlines.

Designers are working with the photographers to make sure they have the very best pictures and mix of text and white space to display those stories. An incredible amount of care, dedication and attention to detail is going into delighting clients and readers.

No, innovation in tabloid newspapers isn’t dead. It’s alive and kicking – in the internal communications world, if not on newsagents’ shelves.

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