How much truth do you think there is in speculation that print newspapers will cease to exist?
I think there’s a newspaper market which has stayed alive because lots and lots of newspapers create a big audience when you put them together. So when people talk about newspapers dying, I think newspapers as a concept will die, and we’ll be left with newspaper brands. The Sun, for example, delivers to more people in a day than the X Factor does, so in advertising terms it’s bigger than ITV. So actually, you’ll have newspaper brands that manage to survive while others will be forced into closure because the economics don’t work, and the premium brands will probably be migrating faster into digital formats. I think there are 3.4 million iPads in the UK at the moment, but there are only 1.6 million quality newspapers sold every day. The ability for the quality brands to have a newspaper and an iPad version is there already. So then, even though they may not exist in print form, they may well exist as papers on iPads. The bottom end will probably go out of business, but The Mail and The Sun and some free newspapers will probably be alive for a long time. The fact that you’ve got a mobile phone and an iPad isn’t going to stop you picking up a free newspaper and reading it on the way home, which is very convenient. At The Evening Standard, we print 800,00 papers a day and every single one goes.
Will the switch to other, cheaper and more rapid forms of news transmission affect the quality of information in some brands?
I think the really, really wealthy newspapers will be fine – Manchester United will carry on playing good football with amazing stars, where some of the others will have to compromise, meaning the quality won’t be so good and they’ll have to close. The key thing is where you decide to make the call, and where you compromise quality, because you might decide you’re not going to turn up and have journalistic football matches, you’re just going to take content from other places. There’s a body called the Press Association, which will sell you content, so instead of having your own journalists, you buy the information off them. You can choose to have it written for you, or you can repurpose it and sub it yourself. So many people are buying in feature based stuff and review type stuff – the free newspapers especiallly do a lot of that (not the Standard but Metro and a lot of others). So, you’ll find an erosion of quality in certain areas but its probably areas that readers aren’t that fussed about. The amount of money that is put into editorial quality is still astronomical.
How much does advertising revenue affect the editorial content of a paper, and how might this change in the future?
People will always talk about editorial independence, and they’re absolutely obsessive about it – this is why we talk about the ‘church’ and the ‘state’ when we talk about the split between the editorial and commercial side of a paper. People insist that the commercial side, who buy the advertising, cannot influence the newspaper editorial – that’s something that is certainly more rigid in some papers than others. There’s obviously a bit of blurring in certain newspapers, where you can see brands have infiltrated areas where they wouldn’t naturally have done so. An example is sponsorship. It happens in sport especially, because people are used to sports brands; it’s the Natwest Series and the Barclays Premiership. It would be unfair of me to name these papers, but there are certainly proprietors, editorial teams and certain newspapers who are blatantly much more prepared to write articles on behalf of commercial people. There are lots of others that are absolutely steadfast and wouldn’t compromise their editorial for anything – there might be a headline about Tesco doing terrible things or Marks and Spencers doing terrible things, and they are jeopardising losing all advertising revenue by writing that, but they will, and actually advertisers respect that. They respect the fact that the editorial can’t be influenced.