The London Evening Standard today launches one of the most daring of publicity campaigns by apologising to Londoners for its previous behaviour.
Buses and tubes will carry a series of messages throughout the week that begin with the word “sorry.” The first says “Sorry for losing touch”. Subsequent slogans say sorry for being negative, for taking you for granted, for being complacent and for being predictable.
The ad posters, some of which will also appear on hoardings, do not mention the Standard by name but carry its Eros logo instead.
(Canary Wharf, this evening: Additional commentary from Onionbagblogger.)
Well, it’s a brave idea. And anything that winds up the previous regime, who turned the Standard into the Stunted, is fine by me. But the problems with the Evening Standard run deep, and actually go further back than the disastrous tenure of Veronica Wadley, who turned the paper into the hateful mini-Daily Mail that ended up having to be sold by the Mail’s parent company earlier this year.
The Standard, like all other papers, is being slowly strangled by the internet – why pay 50p for paper that’s already out of date when you’ve spent half your afternoon in the office taking quick glances at the BBC News website? (While its London coverage has always punched well below its weight, a glance at the “most read” stories when there’s a big story in the capital shows how it has firmly embedded itself into Londoners’ news options.) And, of course, there’s the freesheets, with the miserable London Lite cannibalising the Standard’s own content – which, bizarrely, it continues to do, despite the sale of the Standard.
But the other part of the Standard’s demise is self-inflicted – its wildly-biased news coverage, continued willingness to act as a cheerleader for the mayor rather than scrutinise his policies, and – as reflected in the ads – the fact that it has completely lost touch with London.
With the internet breaking news better than newspapers, the new Standard should be finding strength in its feature coverage. But that’s always been its weak spot – even in the 1990s, when the paper wasn’t too bad and edited by Max Hastings, I was convinced you could sell a feature to it about how walking llamas down the Portobello Road was the new “in” thing for 1999. Under Wadley, the paper’s obsession with money and riches got worse. And trouble is, the new-look paper isn’t showing any sign of doing much better. The appalling “A London Life” column, written by a 23-year-old with “Money” as part of her surname, just about sums it up.
Have a look at the list of columnists on the Evening Standard website. How many of those people really know anything about London? Or how often does their writing touch on London matters? Where’s the fun? Why does it still employ has-been politician David Mellor to write about football? Who really cares what Toby Young thinks of Acton? Maybe the only real London writer there is Simon Jenkins – but the former Times editor knows little of life beyond zone 1, judging by his recent demand that Crossrail be axed because giving people in places like Thamesmead easy access to jobs isn’t a high-priority in his book. It would appear that there is nobody on that newspaper who has any experience of life beyond wittering on about where to find the nicest cheese shops, expensive shoes, and oh, isn’t the congestion charge so beastly? Meanwhile, the rest of us struggle on, our issues and concerns ignored by “London’s quality newspaper”.
While the Evening Standard is still fixated by money and status, it will continue to die a slow and lonely death. “Sorry” may be the hardest word, but turning that ship away from the iceberg will be harder still.