So, the UK’s first new quality daily for 25 years launched today. Although to say ‘new’ is a touch misleading: i is a shameless cannibalisation of its bigger, more established and, yes, terminally-ill brother. The idea, it seems, is to take content from the Indy and pare it down, as if by doing so the disease of falling circulation will be sheared away, the same way that cutting off a gangrenous limb might save the patient.
It’s a policy made clear from the moment our eyes hit the top-left of the cover, the very name a ruthless stripping down of The Independent’s masthead until just a letter remains. As a metaphor for the current state of the press it’s perfect: as a name it’s… a bit irritating, not least because spellcheck automatically capitalises it every time I type it.
Still, it gets the point across I suppose: this is a paper ‘designed with you in mind’, for ‘people with busy, modern lives’, and ‘presented for rapid consumption.’ So it’s a kind of happy-meal broadsheet.
Fair enough – most of us never manage to read whole newspapers anyway. That’s why the Guardian’s iPhone app is so good – we can piecemeal our news intake across the day, without having to keep hold of wads of newspaper wherever we go. But is the content any good?
Well, er… yes? It’s ok. It’s decently-presented, and the commitment to colour throughout does make it a lot more appealing than the Indy’s clutter of text. The News Matrix (part of me dies typing that) looks great at a glance, and the cover design – masthead arranged in a lefthand column – stands out well. The graphic design is presumably intended to appeal to ‘the young’, lots of lower-case fonts and more than a passing resemblance to Guardian Egyptian, but it works. There is something of an information overload at the mid-point though, with the TV listings feeling like a punishment.
As for the content, the commitment to brevity leaves the journalism lacking, with complex stories boiled down to just forty words in some cases. This is risky, frankly, and whilst Editor Simon Kellner would doubtless argue that readers after more detailed discussion will go for the Independent instead, with the current pricing model that isn’t likely. What was the line – a little knowledge is a dangerous thing? A touch overdramatic, perhaps, but the job of a broadsheet is to deliver a complex reading of events, surely – not to summarise. Whilst the rationale is clear – a lot of people are too busy for full news stories – the effect here is one of frustration, with too many stories leaving more questions than they answer.
It’s still a bold release, though, that should, hopefully, find a market. Critics were comparing it to Metro today, and there are similarities – the size, obviously, and the design in places – but it’s much better than that. Whether it’s good enough to prompt readers to keep back a 20p coin each morning and actually head to a vendor will remain to be seen, of course, but we need to wish it well. The free-model of journalism is not, in my view, sustainable – not without a heavy impact on reporting – and the culture of free news needs to be challenged. i is not quite the champion that we need for this role, but as a messenger it’s pretty good.