Last Thursday Jonathan and I attended one of the ‘i’ newspaper’s regular events for readers at London’s Transport Museum. i’s editor, Stefano Hatfield, gave a speech during the night which discussed both why he believed i had beaten expectations to date (it’s circulation rose again last month) and what the future held for journalism (he maintained that print has a future).
The speech itself was interesting but there were also a number of points of interest that we picked up from the night as a whole:
1. Demographics remain against newspapers: Hatfield talked enthusiastically in his speech about the number of young i readers he heard from and indeed had talked to on the night. Yet to my eyes the evidence painted the opposite picture – most of the audience was over 40 and a large chunk were 60+. The challenge of attracting younger readers to pay for news remains as difficult as ever.
2. Maybe people do care about Leveson: For a while now I’ve held the suspicion that most of the general public don’t really care that much about phone hacking, especially given the more immediate focus on financial constraints and employment prospects. However, the most common line of questioning put to Hatfield on Thursday was related to this issue. Granted, the audience was hardly representative (as noted above) but it still made me reappraise my view slightly.
3. Journalism remains alluring: One of the stories Hatfield told on the night was of the waves of work experience and internship requests he gets every day. As he put it, the continued attraction of working in an industry with few prospects, ongoing redundancies and low pay for most is amazing – if only the Government or others could foster a similar buzz around the far more promising and stable engineering and scientific industries then the economy might not be quite so centred on services and the South East.
4. The smallest bits of the paper matter most: If questions to Hatfield about phone hacking were common, then they were closely followed by questions, requests and praise for i’s puzzles, TV listings and entertainment guide. Perhaps too often, the focus on breaking news stories and creating public scandal overlooks the other, much appreciated functions that a newspaper provides its readers.
5. The i may be onto something: To my (admittedly limited) knowledge, the i is the only newspaper regularly holding these kind of events at the moment. For my money, it’s a clever idea to build brand loyalty in a market where ultimately you can be a consumer of the brand for free if you want to be. Newspapers continue to talk proudly about their readers in editorial columns and whenever I meet their journalists, but it strikes me this is no longer enough. In that regard, the i’s holding of these kind of events may be a very smart move – in the interests of fairness I should add that I’m aware of the loyalty route The Times has taken with its Times+ reader rewards programme. It’s a similarly good idea (which I’ve benefitted from) but it doesn’t feel quite as direct and therefore as impactful.