Nick Thomas Media Matter
The Evening Standard is a newspaper I have always regarded with a sort of bemused awe. Most areas of London have their own local rag, but the Standard is still the “Londoners’ paper”, uniting an astonishingly diverse metropolis. I’ve never found a London newsagent that doesn't stock it. There probably isn’t one, even in the many of the capital’s streets where English is not the predominant language. I can’t help feeling a special affection for the thing, because it was there that I sold my first piece, a full-page interview that incidentally landed me a free weekend in Paris (expenses were liberal in those days); but even objectively considered it remains a remarkable balancing act. The term “middle market” doesn’t begin to cover it. Monday’s issue was typical, with a front page dominated by the headline POLICE ARE CALLED IN OVER RAIL REBELLION (note the inclusion of an active main verb which even some posher papers might consider gratuitous). This was good, racey, eye-catching stuff, but followed by a first paragraph in bold type – “Police boarded trains today to halt a revolt by passengers over new timetables” – which revealed that the “rebellion” was not the Spartacist NUR uprising for which we had hoped. And in paragraph two we learnt that British Transport (my italics) Police had travelled on a commuter train to make sure a bunch of cheesed-off passengers didn’t carry out their threat to pull the communication cord at Clapham Junction, where their service will shortly no longer stop. So the initial mental image of thousands of riot cops leaping on to a speeding train like so many Apaches of the Old West was cruelly dispelled; but by that time we were reading the story. That’s the way to do it.
So far, so tabloid, and guaranteed to grip at least a simple majority of the readership. But this was only part of the story. For commuters have leisure time as well as work, so above the headline we had WIN TICKETS FOR WEST END SHOWS AND FILM PREMIERES and “Who will triumph in our theatre awards?”, the 50th annual Evening Standard bunfight being that very day. The paper is justly proud of this event – so proud, in fact, that the remainder of the front page, the whole righthand cloumn, was devoted to a colour glamour-pic of Kim Cattrall, who was among the guests.
Transport, entertainment, glamour; the perfect cover for the Londoner’s daily read. But now the plot thickens, for the Standard, not unlike its national sister, The Daily Mail, gets smarter towards the middle, and after we had skimmed over some celeb stuff in among the serious news, and a daft feature about a feline bruiser who’s been duffing up all the other moggies in Merton Park, we arrived at the centre
“review” section, which led with a fine, thoughtful piece by Henry Bonsu about the changing nature of Brixton.
This is also where the critics are to be found, notably the veteran theatre-goer Nicholas de Jongh, that day delivering a decidedly sniffy notice on the new Tartuffe at the Arcola, and flanked by uncompromisingly technical reviews of classical music and modern art.
You’d think a paper that attempted to cater to every conceivable level of brow in this way would end up being nothing more than a bag of broken biscuits, and yet somehow this is not so. A national daily strives to form a community of its readers, but a paper that serves a great city – and there are, of course, others around the country – has a much stronger community, readymade, of people who have something of which they are genuinely proud in common.
That’s the key to loyalty. Anybody remember The European?