Why buy a newspaper?

Why buy a newspaper?


norman lebrecht

April 11, 2010

Waking up this morning, I turned to radio and television for updates on the Polish disaster, then bought the newspapers. Wish I hadn’t.

Both the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph splashed a grinning jockey on their front pages. The Observer featured a third-party leader and his wife. Two papers noted the Polish tragedy in a squib beneath the fold. The Observer found no space for it on its front page.

Even in the most retrained light, this was an event that defined an epoch and will redound for generations. It is the first time in living memory that the governing elite of a large country has been wiped out – the first time, perhaps, since Stalin’s Katyn Massacre of the Polish intelligentsia, which the neighbouring nations were about to commemorate after almost seven decades of Russian denial.

The repercussions for Polish-Russian relations and for the balance of power in Europe are incalculable. In much the same way as football is shadowed by the 1958 Munich crash that destroyed the Manchester United team, politics in Europe will never be the same again.

Yet none of the British Sunday newspapers saw fit to change their lineup in the 24 hours before publication, dropping some articles and shrinking others to make space for detail and analysis of the terrible event. Columnists would have been called back from the races to write a fresh op-ed on the developing situation.

A decade ago, editors would have followed their news instincts and cleared the front pages. Today, the watchword is ‘resources’. When an event of historic magnitude hits the desk 12 hours before publication, there is no money, no flexibility, no reckless pursuit of journalistic enterprise. Editors stick to the flap plan. Managers count the beans. And readers are left in the dark. At moments like these, the newspaper industry declares its redundancy.




  • sue steward says:

    i did precisely the same as Norman this morning: i scoured the papers in the shop and saw nothing but did find Sunday Times online front page. Only the FT Weekend is forgivable: it’s published on Saturday …
    and guess what…. the front pages of El Pais, Le Monde, Liberation – are all devoted to polish tragecy.
    the Observer put it on page EIGHT – but for page 5, they had the old story about Cameron’s ‘controversial EU alliance with rightwing Polish politicians.’
    i’m ashamed.

  • Peter Tregear says:

    Norman, I couldn’t agree with you more. The same lamentable situation confronted us in Australia.

  • Alicja says:

    Hi, I’ve just read Your post and I have so much strong feelings still about this crash… No mather what the newspapers said – most of them don’t have this opportunity to said to people what the Katyn Massacre was… It is to long story and that’s why Lech Kaczynski and 87 other people went there and died. Most of us -polish people – say that it has to have other sense… But I am suprised that all of countries are saying about Poland. I live in Warsaw ( capitol ) and I know that it is great country with great people who are patriots and the more I’m glad the more I hear that all the world is with us.

  • Merilyn Jackson says:

    With close to 300,000 Polish Americans in Philadelphia, my own paper, the paper I write for and have read all my life, The Philadelphia Inquirer, did not banner the story as headline in Sunday’s paper. Center front was a story on education. History is education and this was a historical and eerily symbolic event with worldwide repercussions, especially if the answers to questions of its accidental nature turn out to be sinister.
    Not having it headline news is no way to sell papers in this town.
    Merilyn Jackson
    NL replies: So true, Merilyn, so very true.