The competition between The Guardian and The Independent in British Print Media Space

It is increasingly becoming a common sight – the ‘tabloid wars’ between broadsheet titles that are redefining the newspaper market. It is believed in the media industry that by producing its tabloid versions The Independent had gained a significant advantage over its competitors including the Guardian. The Guardian on the other hand is accused of having fallen behind in the race, and some commentators have even suggested that the paper is heading toward bankruptcy. The rest of this essay will compare and contrast two newspapers (one a tabloid and the other a broadsheet) and highlight their relative merits and demerits. The Guardian is the chosen broadsheet and The Independent is the tabloid being chosen. (Glover, 2003)

It has to be agreed that the Independent has had outstanding success in going tabloid. Its sales have jumped by 11 percent over the last year. Simon Kelner, one of its editors, certainly deserves the praise he draws from analysts. But of late, the newspaper’s circulation numbers have come down. In the near future the burden of producing two editions is going to strain the financial resources of the paper, which is already showing negative balances. This may force the Independent to keep the tabloid edition and let go of the broadsheet form. Nevertheless, there are other factors as well that determine its ultimate success. The tabloid version of the Independent is an unsatisfactory newspaper in some regards. For example, it looks a little cramped and is typographically unremarkable. Some of its shorter stories and other important pieces make it appear less sophisticated that a traditional newspaper format.

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“What of the Guardian then? Under the leadership of Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor, the paper has lost just over 6 per cent of its circulation over the past 12 months, most of which has switched to the tabloid Independent. Mr Rusbridger has been criticised both inside and outside the paper for sitting on his hands, but to be fair to him, having missed the opportunity to be the prime mover, he has been wise not to produce a ‘me too’ tabloid in the manner of the Times.” (Glover, 2005)

The stories that get selected for publication in these newspapers are quite different too. Let us take the Guardian’s case first. A recent poll taken among Guardian subscribers found that two out of every five of them do not regard that private lives of celebrities is of importance. That means, there are nearly 44 million adults in Britain would prefer a media that is devoid of sensationalism and celebrity watching. Yet, the coverage Beckham gets on a regular basis equals that of Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister. Surely the proportions are wrong here. In this aspect the Independent is not much better either.

“It is a wonderful thought, but can it really be true? In the same poll, 85 per cent of respondents said that disclosures about alleged celebrity flings should not have been published. It is difficult to square this with the reported increase in the sales of some red-top tabloid newspapers which have offered voluminous coverage of celebrities and the rest of the grisly gang. The News of the World, which has about 11 million readers–as opposed to buyers–claims an extra 100,000 sales on each of two successive Sundays when it blitzed us with a celebrity story.” (Glover, 2004)

Now the Guardian has adopted the larger Berliner shape–that of Le Monde in France. New printing facilities costing estimated 50 million pounds sterling have been purchased, since the previously used “presses can produce either a broadsheet or a tabloid form but not a Berliner”. This led Guardian to many penalties for withdrawing from its pre-existing printing contracts prematurely. Probably, the management thought that with the Independent already a tabloid, they can no longer enter the newspaper market with a new product
The Independent adopted the tabloid format out of desperation. It was a last ditch effort which has turned out better than almost anyone could have guessed. The position of the Guardian was different though. It was not in a tight corner as the Independent was. In addition to that, “bulging as it does with classified advertising dropped into its lap by HMG, it could not have adopted the tabloid form without being disagreeably chunky” (Glover, 2003).

The kinds of stories that make their way into the Guardian are largely subject to the ideological leanings of its editors. For example, Mr. Rusbridger himself does not identity himself as someone from the Left; he simply happens to have experience working with a centre-left paper some years ago. But then there are other senior executives working for the Guarding, including Georgina Henry, a deputy editor, or Seamus Milne, the comment editor–who very decidedly are of the Left. In this context, the selection of stories and the narrative points of views chosen found therein are not going to be objective To change the deep-seated culture of a paper is not an easy thing. If the Guardian is to remain in circulation and retain its large base of readers, “it has to become the paper of the establishment, it will have to tone down or get rid of some of its political biases.” (Glover, 2005)

There is yet another factor in this equation. The content of Guardian is as much driven by its readers as it is by its owners.

“The Guardian is the newspaper of teachers, lecturers, social workers, middling government employees. Its pages bulge with government job advertising on which it has a virtual (and indefensible) monopoly. Is it really feasible for it to continue to appeal to its traditional readers while stretching out its hand to members of the establishment–mandarins, lawyers, the higher clergy, senior businessmen and the like?” (Glover, 2003)

At this juncture a comparison of the Independent with other tabloids is warranted. The Independent and the Times are similar in size to that of Sun. Certain pages do seem a little cramped. All the popular tabloids are of the exact same width though. The Le Monde or Berliner size which is both lengthier and wider cannot be produced by any newspaper press in Britain “without adaptation that would render it unfit for producing any other shape”. Of all the forms in vogue, the Berliner is the most versatile in that it offers plenty of scope for striking design. In this sense The Independent is a compressed broadsheet.

References:
Glover, S. (April 24, 2004). Don’t worry: the ‘tabloid revolution’ is not going to carry everything before it. Spectator, 294, 9168. p.10(1).
Glover, S. (July 3, 2004). It is time to praise Mr Rusbridger–for not turning the Guardian into a tabloid. Spectator, 295, 9178. p.30(1).
Glover, S. (Jan 22, 2005). Can the Guardian be a newspaper both of the Left and of the establishment?. Spectator, 297, 9207. p.28(1).
Glover, S. (Nov 29, 2003). The Times has gone tabloid: where will the broadsheet revolution end?. Spectator, 293, 9147. p.30(1).

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