London, Nov. 21: The Times newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is overturning 218 years of history by going tabloid from Wednesday, thereby emulating the successful experiment initiated by another broadsheet daily, The Independent.
Once known as “The Thunderer” because politicians and statesmen would be swayed by its editorials, the paper today follows a much more populist agenda, with large pictures and many more human-interest stories.
Still, old England and colonels in gentlemen’s clubs who once took an afternoon nap with their faces covered with pages of The Times will probably consider Murdoch’s decision to go tabloid as the end of civilisation as they have known it. While staff from other newspapers could be called journalists, only gentlemen traditionally worked for The Times.
However, harsh winds are blowing through Fleet Street. National newspapers are no longer based in Fleet Street but have been forced to move to cheaper parts of London.
In the case of Murdoch’s News International, which owns The Times, The Sunday Times, the News of the World and The Sun, it was to Wapping in 1986 in the east of London.
Today, The Times staff were told about the launch after weeks of speculation that the paper would be the next broadsheet to turn tabloid. The News of the World and The Sun are tabloids.
The Independent newspaper recently went tabloid but for this newspaper, which struggles to sell barely 200,000 copies, it was a do-or-die situation. Its circulation has climbed by 20,000 since it became available in tabloid size. Research carried out by The Independent has shown some commuters and women prefer the compact version, which is easier to handle on crowded buses and trains.
However, for The Times to follow suit is earth shattering. It is almost as if the Queen is giving up Buckingham Palace for a two-bedroom council house.
Now that The Times is going tabloid, media observers will not be surprised if The Daily Telegraph, still the best-selling daily broadsheet with a circulation of just under a million, as well as The Guardian, which has a faithful Left-wing readership, are forced to follow suit.
The Telegraph has admitted drawing up a dummy. All broadsheets have introduced tabloid “second sections” for features, the arts and book reviews.
Murdoch’s move may have been motivated not by changes at The Independent but events at The Telegraph. There is speculation of a possible change of ownership, though it is also known that the current Canadian-born owner, Lord Black, will not easily let go.
From November 26, The Times will be available in both broadsheet and tabloid form in the London area for 50 pence. The circulation of The Times dropped 7.62 per cent in October to 588,860 copies, minus bulks.
The paper’s editor, Robert Thomson, said in a statement: “The compact Times will be the same size as a tabloid, but it will be very, very different to the average tabloid, as it will bring the values and the content of the broadsheet to its new shape. The Times is one of the oldest and most respected newspapers in the world and we are making newspaper history again as we embark on a significant change of format.”
Thomson added: “The compact Times will offer readers a dynamic and compelling read in a format that fits their lives, whether for those commuting on the underground or those who will sometimes want another format other than the wonderful expanse of a broadsheet.”
The editor put in a reassuring note: “Outstanding editorial quality forms the basis of everything we do, whatever the shape, and the compact, like the broadsheet, will be informed by expertise, wit and passion.”
In Italy earlier this week, Murdoch said he could not have put The Times out in tabloid form if The Independent had not paved the way. “If I had done it (first) I’d have been ridiculed for debasing The Times,” he said. “But I’m glad The Independent has gone ahead because now we can try to do it without any problems.”
On the continent, serious papers, such as Le Monde in France, do publish in tabloid form. But in Britain the rules of the newspaper game are being rewritten as size does matter. Broadsheets have usually looked down their noses at tabloids, which explains why the expression “tabloid journalism” has been synonymous with intrusive newsgathering and dumbing down.