19 Sep 2011 at 14:32

Any Old Sport in a Storm - or the Dawning of a New Age for the British Tabloid?

Blog entry by Duncan Williams

The Weekly Sport could be, amid all the bad news, a real success story.

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In light of recent events such as the phone hacking scandal within the British tabloid newspaper industry, which have raised questions about the ethics of tabloid journalists, the subsequent closure of the News of the World, as well as the closure of the Daily and Sunday Sport, and an increasing public feeling of animosity towards Rupert Murdoch and his media empire, tabloid journalism could be said to be in a state of flux, with critics divided over where its future lies. Some feel that the British public has lost faith in tabloid newspapers and that the recent scandal has undermined these publications to such an extent that it could signal the ‘death of tabloid journalism’ or, more damningly, the death of journalism altogether. Some believe that the proposed regulation to attempt to combat would have a stifling effect on freedom of the press, thus ending the role of journalists as we know it. Others argue that these revelations will have little bearing over the future of the red top newspaper- such is their popularity amongst British readers and the financial power possessed by the corporations that own them.

Someone who takes a slightly different, more optimistic, view to these, however, is established media figure Duncan Williams. He believes that ‘the red top must either evolve or die’. The evolution of the tabloid news publication will occur in two different ways: firstly through stronger, more efficient regulation of the printed word, and secondly through the creation of new publications, which seek to alter the negative reputation that the tabloids have. One such example of the latter of these is the new publication, the ‘Weekly Sport’, published by Williams’ company Independent News Ltd. It was set up by a team of journalists who wanted to create a tabloid which was suitable for the whole family, and as such, in contrast to the now-discontinued Daily and Sunday Sport, whose attentions were focussed on negative journalism, scandalous celebrity stories and soft-core pornography in spite of their titles suggesting that sport was their primary focus, the Weekly Sport, true to its name, aims to deliver serious and reputable coverage of sports news. It also hopes to replace the pornographic adverts found in lower-brow tabloid publications with high end, leading brand advertisers. As Williams puts it: "The move away from negative press, lies and soft selling pornography, is both ethical and a very wise evolutionary move forward following a wave of public scandal within the industry". This ties in with Williams’ philosophy on media ethics in general, and as such he strives to make sure the Weekly Sport is focussed on positive and beneficial stories.

However, in spite of the optimistic vision held by those involved with the Weekly Sport, some argue that there is not enough advertising support for a publication dedicated solely to sport. In evidence of this, the example of Trinity Mirror's proposed sports title is cited. The group aimed to put out the twice-weekly paper in the wake of the News of the World; however, the idea was pulled, with sources attributing it to the lack of advertising potential. Because newspapers find it notoriously difficult to convince media companies to place adverts on sports pages, a newspaper devoted entirely to sport would, in the opinion of some, find it incredibly difficult to find the support of advertisers.

Despite this claim, the Weekly Sport seems to be evading the problems faced by the aforementioned sports title; one notable company which has expressed interest in the Weekly Sport is the trading exchange Bartercard, through which the Weekly Sport has won a sizeable advertising revenue agreement. Regional representative of Bartercard Scott Clancy believes that this support and involvement of mainstream advertisers is ‘just what an exciting title like the Weekly Sport needs’. The fact that this agreement is being put into place at a time of economic hardship is even more useful for Weekly Sport; with other such publications finding it difficult to secure any significant advertising, the backing of mainstream advertisers that this deal will create could be exactly the thing to give Weekly Sport a leg up on its competitors. With this in mind, figures at the Weekly Sport hope that the backing of advertisers should in turn help this publication compete against not only other publications operating on a similar level, but also eventually the top tabloid names.

Amongst the additional media being offered by the Weekly Sport are the digital Weekly Sport bulletins. These are broadcast during matches and feature commentary from top journalists who offer in depth sports coverage, and Duncan Williams states that it has already had thousands of people interested and signing up. This is in keeping with Williams’ beliefs with regard to technology and the media, arguing that if technological advancements are not made within tabloid journalism then it will die out. And Williams, as well as everyone else involved with this up-and-coming publication, will hope that this wave of popularity, combined with the potential created by the modern techniques it is employing, as well as the support of Bartercard in gaining advertising revenue could spell bright things for the Weekly Sport.

From a purely moral and ideological perspective, one would think that if the Weekly Sport can make some inroads in the ever-competitive field of tabloid news, it could signal a decline in the sleazy and unethical brand of journalism for which tabloids have become so renowned. Contributing towards the decline of this genre of media has been an ambitious aim of Williams’ ever since he turned his back on his former career as an investigative journalist for the tabloids, and with the Weekly Sport, he hopes to have found a publication with the potential to create a stir. Given the promising start that it has made, there is a good chance that the Weekly Sport could be, amid all the bad news, a real success story.