UK tabloids and broadsheets turning into each other as result of digital

13 October, 2011


Tabloid, midmarket and broadsheet newspapers are merging into each other’s traditional territories as a result of the digital revolution - with all papers across the spectrum now broadly reporting identical content, according to a new media study.

Research by PR agency Clarion Communications and Redshift Research compared national daily and Sunday papers from 1986 with their 2011 equivalents - and found that while tabloids are now more likely to give space to ‘hard’ news, including politics and business, broadsheets are increasingly covering ‘celebrity’ and other populist news stories.

And while newspapers attempt to keep up with digital rivals, their news coverage has become homogenised - as tabloids and broadsheets move closer than ever before in terms of style, content and subject matter, with once clear distinctions between newspaper types becoming eroded.

At the same time, advertising in the national press has declined across all titles, with ads in the first six pages down by six percent from 25 years ago, as papers look to fill as much of the front section as possible with news and photo content.

But while newspapers have changed in many ways since 1986, they are exactly the same in others - with the nationals’ news agenda for Summer 1986 AND Summer 2011 full of almost identical subjects, including ‘Royal Wedding Mania’ (Andy & Fergie v William & Kate), ‘Troubled Pop Stars’ (Boy George v Amy Winehouse) and ‘Soccer Bad Boys’ (Maradonna’s controversial ‘Hand of God’ World Cup goal v Ryan Giggs personal revelations).

The research, which was carried out to mark the 25th anniversary of Clarion Communications, also reveals:

- Celebrity and celebrity-related TV, Film and Music News has rocketed in terms of coverage across all titles, particularly the Sundays, since 1986
- At the same time, older newspaper story staples such as court reporting have sharply declined, again particularly in Sunday papers
- International news across all papers receives one percent LESS coverage across all papers in 2011 than it did in 1986 (from four percent to three percent)
- Hard news coverage overall is up by one percent on 1986, while business and economic coverage has risen by three percent

Howard Bowden, head of news, Clarion Communications, said: ‘There have been seismic changes in our daily and Sunday newspapers over the past 25 years, from the arrival of colour photography to the advent of online news.

‘But news stories themselves remain constant - from crime and the economy to politics and celebrity - and we thought it would be interesting to analyse how the news agenda has changed among the nationals, particularly as papers have traditionally set the news agenda for the rest of the media.

‘The most fascinating discovery is just how much the once clear distinction between tabloids and broadsheets has disappeared - you’ll still only find Page 3 in The Sun, of course, but once you get past that it’s often very hard to spot the difference between the “quality” and “popular” press.’

The research involved comparing editions of The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, News of the World, Sunday Express and Sunday Times on identical days in July 1986 and July 2011, specifically in terms of column inches over the first six pages, based on news story categories. As it turned out, the News of the World ceased publication in mid-July 2011, so the Sunday Mirror and People were substituted in its place.

Howard Bowden, of Clarion Communications, added: ‘Clearly by looking at a single month, our findings are coloured by specific stories of the moment, which in this case for 1986 included Andy and Fergie’s wedding, Boy George’s Drug Arrest and Troubles in Northern Ireland - and Phone Hacking, Amy Winehouse and the Eurozone Crisis in 2011.

‘But it’s clear that distinctions across the newspaper landscape are being eroded; broadsheets have historically focused on ‘serious’ news while the tabloids always had a more populist approach to news, with the midmarkets somewhere in between - but the news agenda has changed over 25 years.

‘People are becoming increasingly used to consuming news from websites and social media, where information is much more standardised in terms of format and style - and papers are having to ditch traditional styles, resulting in a merging of papers into a single, homogenised style of news reportage.

‘The recent extensive newspaper coverage of Sally Bercow, the wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow, appearing on Big Brother is a classic 2011 example of a “populist” story receiving as much coverage across broadsheets and mid markets as the tabloids.

‘Ultimately there’s no getting away from the fact that newspapers’ ability to set the news agenda is on the decrease - and it’s difficult to see how the traditional distinctions between tabloids and broadsheets can ever be revived.’

Note: the survey was conducted by analysing editions of The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, News of the World, Sunday Express and Sunday Times on the following dates:
- 1986: July 1, 7, 16, 24 (Dailies), 6, 13, 120 and 26 (Sundays)
- 2011: July 5, 11, 20, 28 (Dailies), 3, 17 and 24 (Sundays). NB The News of the World ceased publication during July 2011, so The Sunday Mirror and The People were analysed in its place

More press info, contact Howard Bowden or Liz Canning, Clarion Communications, +44 (0)20 7479 0910 / / @howardbowden

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