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!