Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Big, Rich and Unloved; Media

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Big, Rich and Unloved; Media

Article excerpt

Byline: ANDREW NEIL

THE Sunday Times has been market leader among Sunday broadsheets for as long as most folks can remember but under editor John Witherow it has never been more dominant. It towers over its rivals like an impregnable Goliath, impervious to the puny sling shots of the Davids beneath.

In my day as editor, we used to boast that the paper outsold the combined sales of its two nearest competitors (The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph).

Last month's 1.4 million sale of the Witherow Sunday Times is equal to the combined headline circulations of all three of its broadsheet rivals - and in terms of full-price copies, outsells their joint sales by an incredible 300,000.

In today's tough climate for newspaper sales, that is a broadsheet success story without parallel. Indeed, today's Sunday Times is so supreme that in recent years it has increased its price by 40 per cent (from u1 to u1.40) and still managed to put on sales. Most other papers have to cut their price to do that.

Yet it is not regarded as a succYs d'estime by the media cognoscenti. Indeed its reputation among media commentators is in inverse proportion to its success at the newsagents' counters. Perhaps it was always thus for The Sunday Times.

When I began the radical transformation of the paper in the mid-Eighties I was accused of destroying the legacy of the legendary Harry Evans, often by critics who had not been great admirers of his Sunday Times. Similarly, I am regularly told today's paper is not a patch on my Sunday Times, usually by people whom I do not remember cheerleading for me at the time. Media commentary in this country is nothing if not fickle.

Yet there is a sense in which today's hugely successful paper punches below its weight. It does not have the political or intellectual clout in our national life that its market domination should give it.

The Sunday Telegraph often breaks better political scoops, The Observer's analysis of great events is usually deeper, and Downing Street has not rated it. The Times and The Sun have greater political influence, it reckons.

In part, that is because Witherow has not cosied up to the Blairite ascendancy like his Wapping stablemates - and there is no harm in that. He knows Mr Blair will be keen to keep the paper's support for a war on Iraq.

But it is also because the editor does not seem to be that interested in Westminster politics or political ideas. The paper lacks a well-informed political columnist and its editorials do not set the heather on fire.

Perhaps that explains why its circulation is so high. In an age when politics is increasingly despised, readers are looking for other diversions and amusements on a Sunday - and the massive, multi-section Sunday Times has more alternatives to politics or current affairs than anybody else. …

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