Style replaces substance

Hardly a week goes by without more gloomy news about local newspaper closures. The latest example came just last week with the news of the closure of three local weeklies in London.  Interestingly, the trade magazine Press Gazette says that London now has fewer newspapers per resident than any other part of the UK.

However, there is one area of local print journalism which seems to be doing rather well, namely lifestyle magazines. Publications like Cheshire Life, Scottish Field and Norfolk Magazine appear to be going from strength to strength. There is at least one of these magazines covering every part of the country.

These mags are almost all aimed at affluent and aspirational readers, as is evidenced by their reliance on glossy ads from high end estate agents, luxury hotels and other blue chip brands. Editorial pages are full of celebrity interviews, fashion features and advice on leisure pursuits. And of course, they all feature a couple of pages of photos of people in evening wear at a variety of charity functions. There is rarely a hint of anything controversial and certainly nothing that could be described as hard news.

I am not saying that these lifestyle publications don’t fulfil a useful function. However I am concerned that they are increasingly becoming the only printed source of local “news” for many people.

Maybe this tells us something about our society. We don’t want to read about war, economic ruin or political skulduggery, we’d all much rather read recipes and fashion tips from the girl who does the weather on the ITV regional news bulletin. Lifestyle magazines give us a sense of comfort and offer us shelter from the stresses and strains of modern life.

However, somehow it all seems a long way from the old days when US columnist Finley Peter Dunne famously said that the job of the press was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.





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