The Power of Newspapers… Or Lack Thereof

It's_The_Sun_Wot_Won_It

After the 1992 election when John Major defeated Neil Kinnock, The Sun published a now famous headline: “It’s The Sun Wot Won It.” I suspect that this is now a standard text that pupils examine in their GCSE Politics courses. Did The Sun really win it? Or were they just reading the runes and backing the winners?

Of course there’s no question. Murdoch has only ever wanted to back a winner. You don’t sell more papers than anybody else by ignoring your readers.

But whatever the extent of The Sun’s impact on that election, more than thirty years ago now, it’s all frankly rather quaint that we’re still talking about the importance of UK newspapers in this election in 2015.

I love newspapers as I’ve often expressed on this website. I still buy an actual paper copy every day. But they’ve long been in decline in their paper format. Here’s a chart I’ve lifted from The Media Briefing (Sadly, ABC figures are not easy to source historically if you’re not a subscriber). It’s a year or so old, but it shows how far we’ve come.

uknewspaper2001-2014

Yes, there is an internet readership for most of these titles, but there’s much less loyalty – search or social media is as likely to drive a reader to your site as any kind of brand loyalty. Do you really think that people who browse the Mail Online’s sidebar of shame at work in their lunch-hour really care what the editorial line of the print paper is?

So I believe that it’s only fair to conclude that with fewer people reading paper copies, they have less influence than ever.

Which I think makes it almost endearing that so many people have such an interest in which way papers suggest we should vote. Newspapers are actually pretty lucky that television and radio are bound by impartiality rules in the UK, unlike the US. With the BBC and ITV playing a straight bat with news, it’s down to newspaper to add opinion, and partisan politics. And to make coverage interesting, broadcasters turn to print to get a sniff of some of that opinion. Hence “Newspaper Reviews” on the news channels. (You never see a newspaper paying as much interest to Panorama or Dispatches.)

The vast majority of our national press is right wing. But then so are their older readers. The young don’t buy newspapers. The best they might do is pick up Metro in the morning. And nobody really cares about Metro’s editorial line.

I rather think we’ve reached a turning point now and that frankly newspapers can say whatever they like – even if in the case of The Independent that seems to go against everything their readers believe. In a double-Lebedev-whammy, the London Evening Standard came out for the Tories today, when in fact they’re likely to lose a decent number of seats in the capital to Labour.

But simply put, newspapers won’t affect the outcome of this election. So stop frothing about it on Twitter. The Sun might be reprinting an old photo of Ed Miliband, but I’m only seeing it because left-leaning people on Twitter are getting angry about it. I care no more than if it had been another Royal baby photo.

There’s a lot of hysteria on front pages at the moment. Yet is there a single buyer of the Daily Mail who’s going to vote Labour? They’re simply preaching to the choir… The Independent notwithstanding.

Why should we care what the papers say any more than what Buzzfeed says? Or Zoella? Or the Lad Bible? Or Mumsnet? Or Digital Spy? Frankly, those people and sites might have more sway were they to express an opinion.

1 Comment

  1. Bingo. People read a given newspaper because it agrees with their world view.

    Is there really anyone who is going to pickup a copy of The Express and suddenly realize they only like white people and start voting UKIP?

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