Never mind that it's free, feel the quality

The best things in life are free. The opening line of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s classic song is not a view traditionally shared by newspaper commentators. Nor by journalists, for which the “free sheet” has been pretty much bottom of the editorial pecking order. Nor by newspaper managers, whose attitude has tended towards the song’s following lines. Save you editorial quality for the birds and bees. We want money.

Bt Dan Bourke’s impassioned defence of quality free newspapers and their teams, see feature section, may make soon of them at least think of changing their tune.

The quiet revolution that he describes, in which free newspapers are shaking off their Cinderella image and engaging readers with their scoops and quality copy, may well be having a fundamental impact on the shape of the industry.

A crucial point is that frees are bringing new readers to the newspaper habit. Around half of the punters who pick up Metros around the country were previously not reading any newspaper at all. That simply cannot be a bad thing.

Whether Richard Desmond’s motives behind his prospective new free afternoon title for London are quite so altruistic is debatable.

But his team should note that the key word in Bourke’s piece is, of course, “quality.” As he says, producing something written and subbed by a skivvy on a Mac is not the answer. Editorial investment is.

Media’s Kelly confusion

How do you get from “Matthew Kelly in Boy Sex Arrest” in 156 point caps on the front page to a leader condemning “Trial by fame” in just five weeks? Or from a spread on “Weird family life of TV’s Mr Saturday Night” to a front-page “Pilloried” over the same period? A number of newspapers found out how this week after the police said they had no evidence to charge the TV star.

The sound of gears crunching into reverse in the Fleet Street fleet was almost deafening.

There is, of course, a real danger of shooting the messenger here. No newspaper could ignore the leak of such a well-known name and such serious allegations –first broken by ITN, incidentally, lest the tabloid-bashing broadcast brigade get too high on their horses. But what are the public to make of it when their messenger’s messages are so mixed?

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