16 September, 2006

Paper chase

London has recently been blessed with the arrival of not one but two new "free" newspapers, both published mid-afternoon and both intended to be perused by "urbanites" on their way home from work in the evening.

In their short lifespan London Lite and thelondonpaper - equally shit names, I'm sure you'll agree - have already stirred up a rumpus, thanks not just to their over-hyped rivalry and fierce competition, but also for the latter's hapless editorial and production values, typified by this amusing faux pas.

This isn't to excuse or even condone the quality of the former. In fact, both are as lowsy, sloppy and unappealing as each other - hardly surprising, really, when you realise one, London Lite, is published by the same company that is responsible for The Daily Mail (Associated Newspapers), and the other, thelondonpaper, is the work of Rupert Murdoch (News International).

What a grubby, pitiful and ultimately pointless contest: two disreputable organisations trying to outplay each other for the same tranche of upmarket of readers and the same downmarket content. I'd happily cast a plague on both their houses. In a war between the owners of the Mail and the Sun, nobody can ever emerge with any dignity.

Yet the worse outcome is surely the amount of litter being generated by their simultaneous publication and blanket consumption on the Underground. Previously the situation was already pretty dire thanks to the ubiquity of the Metro, the "free" morning newspaper, copies of which were always and still are knocking around on trains 12 hours later.

Now, though, that has been compounded threefold, so you find carriages caked in the remains of the Metro, London Lite and thelondonpaper (those names don't get any nicer to look at, do they?).

Plus you've got the Evening Standard still widely read and equally widely jettisoned, together with any other publications commuters may have deigned to shell out for on their way to and from work.

All in all it's a really unedifying and ugly (in every sense) outcome. Heaven knows what visitors from around the country and abroad make of the capital at the moment, its streets and transport system swimming in acres of rain forest while the vast majority of its inhabitants are apparently happy to go about their business choosing to bury their faces in these tawdry rags rather than read a book or even, say, look up at things around them. A practice which you sense would, undoubtedly, enlighten them far more to what was really going on in the world than the contents of any "free" daily newspaper.

But then there's no accounting for taste. As the starched housewife on A Bit Of Fry And Laurie intones, "My husband and I read The Daily Mail. We prefer it to a newspaper."


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