From Fleet Street to page three girls: an overview of the British print media

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For today’s post, we asked former c-worder Laura Crowden to reflect on the difference between newspapers in Australia and the United Kingdom. Laura is currently living in London and working as a Senior Media Officer at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM).

Any media or PR professional seeking work in the United Kingdom will undoubtedly be grilled on their knowledge of the UK media, and in particular the complex hierarchy among the national print media

In Australia, most capital cities boast a maximum of two daily newspapers, complimented by the local and regional titles. Australian communication professionals can be confident of each paper having a clearly defined audience and approach. In Melbourne, the Herald Sun is clearly a mass-market tabloid, while The Age is pitched as a quality broadsheet. The same distinction can be made between Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald.

The UK print media is a far more complicated beast, with England boasting no less than ten daily papers, adding to the plethora of local and regional titles. In addition, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own set of newspapers. Despite most of the country’s leading newspapers being based out of London, they are read all over the UK.

Working as a PR or media professional in London requires – at a minimum – a reasonable understanding of the distinction between the capital’s major newspapers. Any media announcement or PR event needs to be carefully pitched at a particular newspaper segment, depending on the desired audience. A business PR firm would seek coverage primarily in the financial and broadsheet papers, while a celebrity agent would be focused almost exclusively on the tabloids.

Although the “quality” UK press are loosely referred to as the broadsheets, not all have retained the traditional broadsheet layout, many opting in recent years for either the compact (The Guardian) or Berliner format (The Independent and The Times).

Another difference between newspapers in Australia and Britain is their coverage of elections. Where Australian newspapers adhere to at least a vague aura of impartiality, UK newspapers make no secret of their political allegiances, with headlines clearly trumpeting or disparaging political parities in the lead-up to each election. Unlike Australia where political bias is disguised and all political parties are given coverage, most UK newspapers run a blatant campaign in favour of a political party, often using smear campaigns to undermine the opposition.

The best-selling “quality” title is The Daily Telegraph, sometimes scathingly referred to as the ‘Daily Torygraph’ due to its consistent backing of the conservative party. Left-of-centre and socially liberal, The Guardian is usually seen as close to the Labor Party but backed Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats in the 2010 election.

The Independent, as the name suggests, claims to be independent but expresses centre-left, liberal views. Rupert Murdoch’s The Times supported New Labor during Blair’s reign but returned to backing the Conservative Party in 2010.

At the other end of the spectrum are the tabloids, newspapers that make the Herald Sun look worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. Known as the “red-tops” due to their distinctive red banners, along with the “middle-markets”, they are referred to as the “popular press”. Unashamedly focused on human interest and celebrity stories (particularly footballers and their wives, and reality TV show contestants), the tabloids devote little coverage to politics or international news.

The most notorious is The Sun, infamous for its ongoing inclusion of the ‘page 3 girls’ – topless women accompanied by incongruously intellectual quotes on issues of the day. Another Murdoch title, it recently backed the conservatives, although is a former Blair supporter. Other tabloids include The Daily Mirror (only paper to outrightly back Gordon Brown’s Labor in 2010) and Daily Star (right-wing and populist).

Clearly not broadsheet but quite a true tabloid, the so-called “middle-markets” have strong human interest content but less celebrity smut. Both sensationalist middle-markets, Daily Express and Daily Mail, are consistently politically right-wing and supportive of the conservative party.

Most of the titles also have a Sunday version, such as the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph, although confusingly The Guardian’s Sunday stable-mate is The Observer. Further adding to the mix are the free MX-style newspapers handed out each day at railway stations and tube stops, such at Metro and City AM.

Last year, after 180 years of paid circulation, the respected Evening Standard became free and is now handed out each evening. Definitely of a higher quality than most free papers, it has doubled its circulation since becoming free and put many competitors – notably defunct London Lite – out of business.

Predictably, each leading newspaper has an impressive online presence. Controversially, The Times recently followed The Financial Times’ lead in charging non-subscribers for online content. Staying ahead of the game, this month The Times moved closer to digital integration by launching a special edition available only for iPad users.

The UK print media offers both confusion and opportunities for antipodean ex-pats. Each paper comes with its own complex history, audience, reputation, and political allegiance. The huge difference between the broadsheets and tabloids should be obvious with one shocked glance at page three of The Sun. Understanding the subtle differences between titles – such as the similar Daily Express and Daily Mirror – takes time.

The benefit to a communications professional is greater choice – both in terms of audience and agenda. The mix of broadsheets and tabloids means you can direct your announcement, product or client to an appropriate title.

A huge leap from Australian print media – renowned, thanks to the dominance of Fairfax and Murdoch, as being the world’s most concentrated – the UK print media is a magnificent beast. Where else can some of the world’s oldest newspapers provide you with either an in-depth analysis of Middle Eastern politics, or an in-depth analysis of Danni Minogue’s outfits on X-Factor?

 

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