Obituary of the broadsheet

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OBSERVANT NEWSPAPER readers may have noticed, over the last year and a half, papers have been getting a lot smaller. However, unlike the scandalous creme egg shrinkage, they’ve also been getting a lot thicker. The broadsheet, once the beloved darling of all highbrow newspaper readers, has fallen out of fashion. As the Guardian jumps the bandwagon, downsizing to the obscure Berliner format, we at Cherwell lament the death of the broadsheet.
The more pedantic reader may have noticed that many of the Sunday papers still come in broadsheet format, as does the Daily Telegraph. However, how much longer the fine tradition of giant sheets of paper in bed on a Sunday morning will continue is unknown. And whether the Daily Telegraph (for the home counties Daily Mail reader in denial) counts as a proper newspaper is up for debate. The golden age of the broadsheet has definitely come to an end, and like hyenas by a dying zebra, the Cherwell obiturists have decided to tuck in before it’s technically stopped breathing.
The broadsheet was born in 1712 out of two noble traditions. Firstly, the great, slightly eccentric, British legal system, which decided that to raise funds, it would be a good idea to tax newspapers per page. And secondly, the even greater tradition of tax evasion that decided, instead of coughing up, that it would have fewer pages but make them bigger. The giant paper came into vogue, spread worldwide, and the rest is history. Broadsheets took on a reputation as the intellectual papers, eschewing sensationalist and celebrity stories for a more in-depth perspective on serious issues.
A few years ago, something started to change. Perhaps it was our “small is good” micro-mobile and iPod Nano culture. Perhaps it was our crowded public transport system; when you’re crammed in like sardines, opening a broadsheet puts you at serious risk of taking out someone’s eye. Perhaps it was the dumbing down of our education system, which meant the finely- honed flick of the wrist required to turn a broadsheet’s page without turning it into a crumpled mess was no longer being passed on to the younger generation. Cherwell, ahead of the times as always (whatever The Oxford Student motto may claim), changed way back in 1953. However, 2004 seemed to be when the winds changed for good, and suddenly everyone couldn’t get enough of “compact” newspapers.
But have we been too swift to abandon broadsheets? While tabloid papers can still convey the news, can they fulfil broadsheets’ other social functions? Can you make a pirate’s hat out of them? Are they big enough to be used as impromptu umbrellas in this inclement climate? Can you easily spread out a few to house train a puppy (or small sibling) on? Can the cheapskates among you use a sheet as wrapping paper? And how else are you supposed to recognise other intellectual snobs in a crowded public place?
Farewell broadsheets, you will leave a 29½ by 23½ inch hole in our hearts.ARCHIVE: 0th week MT 2005

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