The Media Column: `The Bottom Has Dropped out of the Left-Leaning Periodical Market'
Hagerty, Bill, The Independent (London, England)
A CHANGE OF editorship at a revered political publication might be expected to be of some interest, both in an incestuous media world and at Westminster. Yet in terms of causing ripples in either trade, the appointment of Chris McLaughlin as editorial boss of Tribune, the 67-year-old left-wing weekly, is no more than the lightest of leaves cast upon the water. The magazine, although still a feisty irritant to the New Labour leadership, has hit hard times. Only an injection of capital from a consortium of trade unions has kept it afloat.
Although the deep pockets of industrialist MP Geoffrey Robinson head off similar financial dire straits, the equally venerable New Statesman is experiencing many of the problems responsible for Tribune's decline. Whereas the Conservative Spectator continues to enjoy a profile as high as its editor, Boris Johnson - a Tory MP whose political trajectory is expected to be very much skywards - the Staggers is staggering.
It seems that the bottom has dropped out of the left-leaning periodical market, a calamitous decay shortly to be addressed by McLaughlin and already occupying the daily thoughts of Statesman editor Peter Wilby as his fingernails scrabble to retain a grip on a circulation of 24,000.
Wilby reflects on how sales slipped in the wake of the Gulf War, when those who had opposed it and found an articulate ally in the New Statesman discovered their protests totally ineffectual. "Those who became engaged in the debate and marched and read us - and maybe read Tribune, too - were totally disillusioned when nothing happened," he tells me. "They were proved right, we were proved right and so what? Blair is still there - so what's the point of getting involved in politics and trying to understand the issues?" So wearied of politics have many become, says Wilby, that if he now puts the Prime Minister or Gordon Brown on the cover of his magazine, newsstand sales tumble.
Mark Seddon, accomplished outgoing editor of Tribune (I should declare an interest: for more than a decade I worked with Seddon as the magazine's unpaid editorial adviser) expresses similar views: "Two million people who marched against the war realised that they don't make a difference. They feel disenfranchised." But Seddon also rails against the major wholesalers and retail outlets, such as WH Smith, that refuse to stock Tribune because of insufficient demand. …