The London Paper’s purple reign

I’m a bit late with this news, but then it reflects one of the weaknesses of The London Paper, which is closing next month after three years of, er, littering the capital’s streets.

Actually, I’m moved to write because I’m genuinely sad to see it go. Yes, it did feel a bit heavy on celebrity nonsense, and its news coverage was weak, but as a product I thought it was brilliant – crisply-produced with some imaginative features that really did reflect Londoners’ lives, unlike the minor royalty who got to appear in the Standard then, and still appear in it now despite its takeover by Alexander Lebedev. What’s more relevant to your life – Pet of the Day, or the madness of making your children mini Mozarts? Its attitude to London took its cue from Time Out rather than the Standard, and it was a refreshing read because of it. And, on the whole, it’s been pretty impartial, and made a good fist of the London mayoral election while the Standard (and by extension, London Lite) decended into ranting madness.

If the news coverage could have been beefed up then The London Paper might have been onto a winner, but lightweight front of the paper dragged down the rest of it, even when it did try to tackle meatier topics. Add in the poisonous spoiler paper put out by then-Standard publisher Associated Newspapers, London Lite, together with the ubiquitous hawkers, just added to the feeling of bullshit overload. If, as I hope, Lite curls up and dies, Londoners’ collective evening stress levels will take a reassuring dive. Hey, we’ll all be smiling at each other and cracking jokes each evening. Or maybe not.

But The London Paper does leave a legacy – Lovestruck (sent up by a mate – “You had dark hair and were on the top deck of the 171 on Friday night, picking your scabs. Drink?”), a modern take on Time Out’s old “I saw you” column, has snuck into London culture. It helped force Associated to sell a majority stake in the Standard, although the current paper is as bad it was under its past owners, and I’d always maintain that when the Standard finally dies, the first knife in its back will have come from the internet.

A few elements of its design were lifted by other papers – the “your club today” bit where journalists copy stuff from football clubs’ websites to fill a news in brief column has been widely imitated. And a certain kind of paparazzi and clebrity PR will be panicking at the thought of losing the London freesheets – there’ll be a sudden drop in demand for pictures of Big Brother contestants leaving clubs at 4am. I’d go so far as to maintain that some celebrities were created by the frees – model Agyness Deyn‘s face was peering up from the floors of Tube trains long before the national press became obsessed with her.

Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff? No. But I think The London Paper was valued by more people than its critics – particularly the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade – gave it credit for. When London Lite goes, no-one will miss its hastily-thrown-together design and “why-oh-why-it’s-not-fair” outlook on life, because you can get that everywhere else. Whereas The London Paper did, at least, try to see the capital from a fresh angle. And for that, the team behind it deserve credit.

The yawning great gaps in London’s news coverage go on, however. Spending time in Edinburgh reminded me of the millions thrown at journalism in Scotland – lavishly-funded BBC coverage, a distinctive and valued media scene, all for a population of 5.2 million, and right and proper for a proud and distinctive nation.

But the 7.6 million of us in London have one out-of-touch evening newspaper, pedestrian BBC output which is too often influenced by what’s in that paper, an ITV local news service which is becoming a celebrity bulletin, and LBC. Time Out – whose original news section helped inspire me to become a journalist – recently closed its London-centric Big Smoke section, exiling it online. The media is obsessed with talking about London, to the irritation of the rest of the country, but isn’t so keen on scrutinising it properly – especially when it comes to the mayor and the 32 little fiefdoms that govern our lives. Many of London’s issues simply don’t apply outside the M25 – but don’t get covered properly. Take coverage of public transport – it can moan about the Tube until the cows come home. But when are any solutions to its problems seriously discussed?

Of course, the London Paper wasn’t ever going to break the capital equivalent of Watergate any time soon. But it offered a truly London-centric take on life that few bother to do now, because they don’t know the city well enough or simply pander to people’s prejudices.

It may have sparked the depressing sight of Tube trains being covered in free papers, and having to swerve around countless hawkers on the commute home (I used to have to dodge seven of them). But London’s too important to be left to the Standard, which can’t be trusted to cover it properly. With almost every other media outlet in the capital failing it badly, it’s a terrible shame to see a fresh voice silenced.

(See also Time Out’s Peter Watts’ take on it“my predominant emotion is anger at the executives who squandered time, money and resources pursuing a strategy that was not only clearly doomed to failure, but also offered nothing of substance to the city it served.”)

3 comments

  1. Nat@London Calling

    I’m afraid I shan’t miss it. I could never get past the almost impossible to decipher print face and the fact that its direct competitor (Lite) is printed with ink that doesn’t come off on your hands.

    The only thing I shall miss is the diligence of the distributors (or is it just less popular). Leaving the office at 7:30pm the Lite distributors are long gone… but the London Paper often lingers on.

  2. Peter Watts

    A more than fair summary of thelondonpaper – I agree, it had an agreeable tone, was far superior to its competitor and the Lovestruck column was a conspicuous success. I remember seeing The List in Glasgow about six years, which had three pages of ‘Once Seen’, and was puzzled that the Time Out column never grew larger than a couple of entries.

    I think my own post (thanks for the link) was aimed more at the free newspapers in general than thelondonpaper in particular, and the damage they have done to the climate – I know that Time Out’s confidence was badly shaken by the impact on ad revenues. It is this sort of wilful self-destruction in the media that worries me (admittedly more as a journalist perhaps, than as a consumer).

    The problem with the freebies is that there was no real reason for them to exist, other than to piss off a rival company, and that always struck me as a very dangerous place to start from.

    Finally, you may be pleased to hear that Time Out’s news pages are being restored, in some form at least.

  3. darryl853

    Thanks for commenting, Peter. It’s interesting how Time Out has at least managed to defend its listings/whats on core over the years; I remember an early-1990s Camden-based paper called The Good Times which was probably the only serious free competitor until Metro launched with a good reviews/listings section in 1999, although that’s since been pruned back.

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