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Expert Comment: The Sun on Sunday launches

Newspaper Wednesday 25 April 2012

Paddy Hoey, Lecturer in Journalism and Communication at Liverpool Hope University

The Sun on Sunday will be the News of the World, with a slimmed down staff, a more dynamic website and will focus on the same salacious, scabrous journalism which made the latter such a successful paper.

Critics pointed to the fact that closing the NotW would see two million or so readers left without a paper, something the beleaguered industry didn’t need at its most critical of crises. But, looking closer, a few keen-eyed insiders have noted that rather than losing 2m readers from the Sunday sales figures, we had lost the people who took the ‘Screws’ as their second paper, in many cases, their guilty Sunday morning pleasure.

The Sun on Sunday fills that void perfectly for a number of reasons. Firstly, the NotW had become associated with the worst excesses of the British tabloid market, in a way that its sister paper The Sun hadn’t (despite some evidence that it was as culpable). The Fake Sheik exposés and intrusion had been tolerated to a point, but were stretching the boundaries of acceptability with every edition that appeared.

The phone hacking scandal, so prominent and dripping with public and political ire, had finally broken the invincibility of the Screws, regardless of bullish sales figures. The hacking of war heroes and a dead teenager’s phone had made the brand toxic and Rupert Murdoch, ever vigilant and opportunistic, shut it down.

It was an open secret that The Sun on Sunday was in the offing already. Key editorial and design staff had been secreted away in Wapping producing dummy copies. With a spare print slot on the vast Wapping presses and staff ready and able to step into the breach it was a no brainer that TSOS was destined to appear.

New Media people like to bash Rupert Murdoch for being myopic and an anachronism, as someone too focused on old media platforms like newspapers and satellite TV, but underestimate him at your peril. It’s not an accident he was rightly described as ‘the last of the tycoons’ by Time magazine.

Personally, he’s very taken with tablet computers like the iPad and as a recent convert to Twitter, he has grudgingly, perhaps, got with the new dynamics of the social media age. But one thing he has always understood is platforms. Just as the profits of The Sun in the 80s and 90s funded the opening of Sky and BSkyB, he saw the relevance of owning a multi-platform media company to promote his products.

Sales of newspapers may be diminishing, but traffic to their websites and online portals has been flourishing. A new expanded Sun, with a seven-day operation, will play a key part in the promotion of his sporting crown jewels, in Britain at least. Imagine Premiership football without journalists setting the agenda? It’s inconceivable. With all that access providing online content, all those journalists appearing on myriad other media outlets, it is the perfect platform to provide exposure for his most valued product in Britain – coverage of the Premiership.

Murdoch will also have noted what the Daily Mail has done with its successful mix of the paper’s physical content and online global celebrity content that has seen monthly page views exceeding 30 million readers. That kind of traffic really drives profile and ad revenue.

The great paradox of many of us critical of Murdoch’s influence on the standards of traditional British journalism is that he’s one of the last men standing investing in it. To quote the great American comedian Bill Hicks, ‘politics makes for strange bedfellows.’

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