Monday, March 31, 2008

What Next for the New Statesman?


Several blogs, led by Red Box, reported last week that Steve Richards had been offered the post of New Statesman editor. I'm told an announcement is imminent. Steve's current perch is chief political commentator for The Independent, a post I imagine he could cheerfully combine with the 'Staggers' editorship. He is one of the nicest political pundits you could hope to meet, and if he does take the post I know he will inspire a great deal of loyalty from those who will be working for him. But he will not be walking into an easy job.

The New Statesman has never quite worked out whether it should be a cheerleader for the Labour Party, a critical friend or a downright enemy. At times it has tried to be all three, and it hasn't really worked. I thought John Kampfner did a terrific job in making it more readable and appealing to people who maybe weren't its natural readers (ie. me!). The redesign was a great success, but despite circulation rising in 2006, it plummeted again in 2007. A lot of money was invested in marketing initiatives, but they failed to reap the long term readership loyalty which had been hoped for. Despite all other current affairs publications putting on circulation last year, the New Statesman experience a downturn.

There was talk of Neal Lawson of Compass being recruited by NS owner Geoffrey Robinson. It would have been a brave decision to recruit a non journalist and someone who is considered highly partisan. Steve Richards would bring professionalism and guile to the job, but one has to ask the question how long Geoffrey Robinson will continue to fund the loss making publication. We keep reading hints that he has lost a lot of money in recent times, presumably linked to his departure from the chairmanship of Coventry City FC. Could a sale of the NS be in the offing?

But what do its readers want from the NS in future? A bit more humour of the non 'right on' variety wouldn't go amiss. Anyone who thinks Mark Thomas is either funny or interesting anymore needs a doctor's note. I asked a friend on the left what he wanted from it. "More fun – which means changing the cast of characters, and getting the best writers from Westminster and beyond to write for it, not the dreary list of leftish/post-modern ‘rainbow coalition’ contributors they have now," he said.

I think Steve Richard's sense of the absurd, his recent conversion to the ways of new media and his ability to attract top class writers will mean he stands a high chance of succeeding. But having written all this, I've probably now put the black spot on him and they'll announce Polly Toynbee as the new editor in five minutes time!

16 comments:

simonh said...

I'm sure your diagnosis is right in many ways but the fact remains that the NS's hard core of loyal readers want lots of John Pilger and Andrew Stephen, who the rest of us find rather indigestible. And they may not be terribly amused by non-right-on humour. As with many venerable print publications, the trick is how to attract a wider audience without sacrificing your core (if dwindling) user base.

javelin said...

"But what do its readers want from the NS in future? A bit more humour" - Oh Iain you make me laugh, when was the last time a leftie made a joke?

(a) Spite, (b) hate, (c) jealously and (d) anger are the respective (a) sentiment, (b) feeling, (c) thought and (d) emotion of the left.

Anonymous said...

Mark Thomas? not funny?
In that case, I can't wait to see the humour page in your mag Iain

Carl Eve

Kerron said...

Perhaps they need to recruit more political bloggers. ;-)

strapworld said...

Iain,

Steve Richards may be a nice bloke but his columns and television shows are nothing but an apology for Labour.

You look at his articles and you will find that almost always he has been found wrong by events.

He writes for the Independent! Now that IS a major seller is it not!

From one doomed newspaper to a doomed magazine.

He can, though, expect many more appearances on the BBC.

rupahuq said...

When I first started reading it in the late 80s it was called "New Statesman and Society" following its merger with another ailing lefty rag. I note the latter was swiftly dropped maybe because (a) it was a takeover not a merger and (b) Mrs Thtacher was propogating the notion "there is no such thing as society" during that decade.

Charlie Root said...

Ha, if only there was a new Political Magazine coming out eh?

I've met Mark Thomas many times and I've only met Iain once but I know who I'd rather sit and have a pint with (clue: he doesn't drive an Audi)!

Anonymous said...

and now your blogsite has almost disappeared.....

Oscar Miller said...

What was it Javelin suggested passes for humour on the Left - spite, hate and jealousy? Congratulations Charlie Root - you've hit the jackpot with that remark.

Praguetory said...

I wish Steve Richards all the best.

Trumpeter Lanfried said...

The market for left-wing political journals, however well edited, is very small. Deservedly so.

rapahug @ 6.55. I remember New Society, and actually bought a copy once. It was unspeakable.

Paul Burgin said...

Well I am an admirer of Steve Richards as well, so am hoping for great things if he does take on the role.

Matthew said...

DECLARE AN INTEREST.

DECLARE AN INTEREST.

DECLARE AN INTEREST.

Iain Dale said...

Er, what might that be then? I don't write for the New Statesman. If you are referring to Total Politics, it is not a competitor to the New Statesman so you're barking up the wrong tree.

Adrian said...

I subscribed for a while to NS until around the time Wilby left. I wrote to him explaining why I was giving up, and it was mainly that it's too solidly Labour. (also there was too much Wine and A Platell.) Wilby replied that the bulk of the readership were Labour supporters so the magazine could never effectively cater for people like me without alienating its main market.

Anonymous said...

Steve Richards? Is he the rather self-important lefty bore I occasionally glimpse on early morning Sunday TV?