Nice look, shame about the content
by Giles Turnbull
Last week’s relaunched Observer was a welcome change in many respects, but I was disappointed by the colour magazine (imaginatively called “The Observer Magazine”). Everything in it was the same old Sunday magazine crap. I want something different.
You’d have thought that an upmarket Sunday newspaper with a largely intelligent, educated audience would have the guts to create a magazine that takes some risks, but sadly this mag was a dull repetition of most of its rivals on Fleet Street.
Sunday newspapers have got trapped in a net of perceived expectations. The editorial team think that readers expect so-and-so, and they dish the same old stuff up again and again, in the belief that they are meeting this perceived need.
So the colour mag in the all-new, all-smaller Observer contains the same old guff you’ll find in the Sunday mags from the Independent, the Times, even the Mail. No-one can imagine a mag that doesn’t have a food column (recipes), a restaurant review, a booze column, an agony aunt (even if she’s someone trendy like Mariella Frostrup, she’s still an agony aunt), a gardening column, a fashion photo shoot over four or five pages, a review of a car.
We’ve been reading exactly the same kind of stuff in Sunday colour supplements for decades now, and it’s getting boring.
The Observer, in particular, has shown some innovation with its monthly specialist magazines about sport, music, and food. It should turn its attention to the colour mag and re-invent it with the same spirit of innovation. Why not ditch the (rather thin) newsprint Travel section, perhaps the newsprint Review section as well, and combine them with some new material into a larger, fatter, more interesting weekly magazine? Why not ditch all the existing magazine content (or just move it to other parts of the paper, if it deserves to survive) and start with a completely blank slate, a full colour magazine ready for new ideas?
If I had my way, I’d commission things like:
- a regular feature publishing wonderful photos from Flickr
- original fiction, including screenplays and stage scripts
- Economist-style informed (but informal) reporting from obscure places
- exploratory reportage from every corner of Britain, interviewing interesting people about their communities
- whatever they want to write, from people like Ashley Pomeroy, Merlin Mann, David Chess, a dozen or more others whose writing I admire
But most of all, I’d commission something different, something radically different, every single week. I’d want editorial that didn’t try to comfort the reader with the same kind of stuff every week, but instead tried to surprise them with something unexpected.
Unexpected, but readable. Another problem I have with Sunday newspapers is that there’s a tradition of writing longer articles. Frankly, too many of the ones I try reading are simply good, short articles that have been padding out with guff and bullshit. I’ve nothing against a long piece when all of it is worth reading, but I also see no need for all features to necessarily be “feature-length”. I’d tell contributors to write what the story was worth.
I rarely buy a Sunday paper these days. I look at them lined up on the shelf in the newsagent, grunt my frustration, and walk away.