London Lite [sic] vs. thelondonpaper [sic] - getting what you pay for?

There were once two competing free evening newspapers in London; London Lite and thelondonpaper. Both sought to capitalise on the huge numbers of gainfully employed eyeballs that go home on public transport every evening. These eyeballs need something to read, and maybe it should be the dubious assertions of paid advertisements. "London Lite" was launched by Associated Newspapers at the end of August 2006 and ran until November 2009. AN also produces the popular Daily Mail and the Evening Standard- another evening newspaper that you have to pay for. Thelondonpaper is produced by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation; 'nuff said. It first appeared a week later than the Lite, and disappeared two months before. Nowadays there is one evening freesheet - The Evening Standard

I'm not sure what to say about the obvious typographical errors in the names of both free papers, except that it hardly augurs well.

How to get one

The trick is more how to avoid getting one. All the roads leading to tube stations are now clogged with London Lite and thelondonpaper distributors. The northern section of Tottenham Court Road is almost impassible by 6pm. I've been making sure to collect both publications for the last week, and I think thelondonpaper is slightly thicker on the ground. Its distributors have little wheeled racks with cute purple-striped parasols. Look past one of these, and you'll see someone in a burgundy teeshirt handing out London Lite. Some representatives of both papers are quite insistent, and will hold their publication out across your path until the very last moment. Andrew Aguecheek notes that it's "remarkably difficult to convince them that you already have a paper and don't need another copy". In other places you have to pick the paper up from a stack left on the pavement. Both papers set up shop before 5pm and seem to clear away into the night at 7.20pm.

In Kensington and Chelsea the Borough Council has moved to limit the number of distributers to 15 per title (a reduction from a total of 80), since their pavements are so crowded. In Westminster, the council have had to add 10 new recycling bins since the papers launched.

London Lite

London Lite has a burgundy and scarlet colour scheme and some of the same shock-horror attitude of stable-mate the Daily Mail. Each edition in the last week has 48 pages, and manages to cover very little by the way of actual news. The reliance on celebrity news and stories about the weight of various models, fashion tips, gossip and the like is marked. They also offer a handy daily listings section with film, music, theatre, and clubbing reviews. This 19 page section opens with a different feature each day, including in the last week:- gourmet beers, dating (how to pull in a Scandinavian bar), shopping and karaoke.

But what struck me about the week in question was the prominence of articles about body mass. Obese kids, skinny supermodels, Posh's diet plan for Becks, and a low fat alternative to sweeteners (cactus juice). A smattering of corblimey talking-piece stories are interspersed. Interactivity is provided on a one-page letters section, which accepts SMSs and emails too; they nominate a topic for tomorrow's publication each day. An on-line opinion poll variously asked for opinions on whether the Pope should apologise for remarks on Islam, and whether "size 0" models should be banned. Brilliantly, they also have a regular pub review column!

They have a 6 page sports section and leave the back page to be filled by an advert. Overall, I'd have to say that I was surprised by how few and unobtrusive the adverts are. Despite being a freesheet, it seems that they don't have many more adverts than a regular newspaper.

The front page usually boasts a strap-line which reads "PRINTED WITH INK THAT WON'T COME OFF ON YOUR HANDS".

The Headlines
(Monday to Friday):

  • Ban the ads destroying childhood
  • Blitz on selfish cyclists
  • Harrow girl was 'killed for a kitten'
  • We don't know if he will live or die
  • BBC gives preacher of hate a platform

The Cover Girls

A celebrity photograph takes up a quarter of every front page. In order, they were:

thelondonpaper

It's fair to say that thelondonpaper is marketed with a bit more pizzazz than its one week older rival. The dinky parasol stalls make their distributors easier to spot. They've also taken out huge adverts on the sides of buses (finally displacing Severance). They feature a figure in purple clothes holding up a sign with a pithy slogan, including gems like "Think Global, Party Local". Like the Severance posters, the figures are cropped at the neck.

After a less garish front-page, thelondonpaper offers a "24 hours in pictures" feature on page 2; with colourful images from around the globe; the Chinese State Circus in Mexico, a Sea lion cub and a Masalai warrior in a moss hat were depicted last week.

The pages seem clearer, with high-contrast images, white space around each article and a slicker layout. However, this is at the expense of the ink coming off onto nearby fingers. Like London Lite, each issue runs to 48 pages.

Thelondonpaper seems to have more genuine news articles and magazine features along side the celebrity gossip and paparazzi snaps. Last week they covered disputed Afghanistan casualty figures, the closure of the Smarties factories, the Liberal Democrats' Conference, and a plan for positive discrimination in parliamentary candidate selection- all of which are fairly serious topics that the Lite missed out.

Like London Lite, the back page is used for a full-page advert. Thelondonpaper even stooped to advertise themselves on Wednesday. As with other News Corporation products, it has some cross-promotion. A few news articles were illustrated by screen captures from Sky News; their TV listings section features Sky One prominently, whereas London Lite's does not. In general, there seem to be more paid adverts in the thelondonpaper. They also have advertising-lead sections; each day, one of Travel, Health, Jobs, Love and other course Property advertising features appear.

The Headlines
(Monday to Friday):

  • Anger at race hate preacher
  • Tube boss swindled of £100K
  • Shop your children, says Reid
  • Hammond was 'late stand-in'
  • 7/7 victims 'failed by ministers'

The Cover Girls

A celebrity photograph takes up a quarter of every front page. In order, they were:

Other London-wide Freesheets

The streets of London are fly-blown with fragments from several other freesheets. There are local papers, and several London-wide publications.

  • City A.M. - "Business with Personality". This publication purports to be a free, white, tabloid version of the Financial Times, aiming at professionals. It is distributed by being dumped in piles in the foyers of offices around London, not quite early enough in the morning for me to collect. I do see it at lunchtime, though.
  • Metro - "Britain's first urban national newspaper". In London, this publication is available in the morning rush hour from racks in the ticket halls of the tube. It's been available since March 1999, and so is the first of the new free papers. Sodden copies of Metro also clog the gutters of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Bristol, Bath, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Despite not charging its readers a bean, and being "a typo-filled cesspit of rehashed Evening Standard stories", they turn in a profit of £8M per annum.
  • The Londoner - "News from the Mayor of London". This one is basically a monthly propaganda rag from the Mayor Ken Livingston. It's job is to inform citizens how the new London Assembly is getting along. Being a taxpayer-funded, 20-page printed publication that is distributed by hydrocarbon-burning trucks door-to-door in residential areas, it naturally has a largish "Green" section. Normally it's monthly, but they seem to miss the occasional month.

Conclusions

I've had a look at the ten issues available in the last week. If nothing else, I've seen a lot of Beyoncé- each rag contributed an average of one bootylicious image per issue. Right, I'm off to wash the ink off my hands; next week, I'm back to reading books.


A newspaper is a collection of half-injustices


Sources:

  • London Lite, 18th September - 22nd September
  • thelondonpaper, 18th September - 22nd September
  • London freesheet battle commences, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5297416.stm
  • thelondonpaper website - http://www.thelondonpaper.com/
  • City A.M. website - http://www.cityam.com
  • Metro website - http://www.metro.co.uk
  • The Londoner - http://www.london.gov.uk/londoner
  • Media Life Magazine - http://www.medialifemagazine.com/artman/publish/article_7839.asp
  • Our own Frankie for the inflammatory quote about Metro

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