Save the Observer? Why exactly?

8:45 am - August 5th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    

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There’s a campaign to save the Observer newspaper after reports over the weekend that GMG might shut down the loss-making paper. Other than just sheer sentimentality what reason is there to support its existence?

The Observer isn’t a left-wing paper. It has a few somewhat vaguely left-liberal columnists. And then it has people like Andrew Anthony and Nick Cohen who spend half their time saying the left is in bed with Islamists. And don’t forget its shamelessly cheer-leading for the Iraq war. Any apologies forthcoming?

That doesn’t mean I want it to shut down. Sunder asks if I would be ok, “if sunday press were to shake out to Times, Mail, Telegraph and News of the World?” — not really, but then the Observer doesn’t really offer itself as a left-wing counterbalance. I don’t read any of these Sunday papers anyway – I stick with the American press and blogs.

The point is: if there was a choice between the Guardian and the Observer, and there seems to be, then I’ll take the Guardian any day. That is a paper I can be loyal too, especially with its stellar work recently on tax justice (Barclays), the G20 riots and fingering News International. Can anyone remember the Observer breaking something so big recently it dominated the news agenda for days? I can’t. Supporting the Observer for it’s own sake, while making life worse for the Guardian, doesn’t look like a sensible proposition to me.

More on other blogs
Paperhouse: Save the Observer, 2003 edition
The Third Estate: Save the Observer?
Blood and Treasure: unlamented death of a newspaper
Media Blog: Times readers choose Shadenfreude over reason as Observer wavers
Charlie Beckett: The Observer: why bin it?

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

I would have to agree but for slightly different reasons. I can’t see any reason why the Observer should not become the Sunday Guardian. I don’t want to see any jobs lost but it makes no sense to have a separate title within the same group. As you say the Observer does not have a distinct political stance nor a very strong identity anymore. The most controversial thing it publishes appears to be the monthly Observer Women.

Hmm, I like reading The Observer on a Sunday, t’would be a shame to see it go. I think it’s a bit more left-wing than you allow for – yes there’s Cohen and Anthony, a pair of twits indeed – but there’s also Will Hutton, Henry Porter, Andrew Rawnsley and Catherine Bennett as regular commentators, who are pretty left of centre. (Also remember that Cohen, if not Anthony, thinks he’s left-wing; lots of other people might too – it’s a bit harsh to cite Cohen as proof of non-left wingery when that status is basically contested within the left).

Also, I’d say the news coverage is fairly left-of-centre in its general balance and orientation.

As for crediting the Guardian with e.g. the tax gap series…maybe, but Nick Mathiason who drove a lot of the Guardian tax gap stuff is, first and foremost, an Observer man. There’s more of a cross-over than you allow in these respects.

And don’t forget its shamelessly cheer-leading for the Iraq war.

If anything, this isn’t even nearly harsh enough on these vipers. Assuming that Nick Davies was telling the truth, The Observer repeatedly and deliberately printed bullshit propaganda straight from the desks of top Labour Party spin doctors as if it were fact, without even bothering with the cursory checks on its accuracy that would’ve shown it up as obvious lies.

Given the enormous bodycount that the war and occupation produced, I’d say that the gaggle of sick freaks and human swine responsible for that debacle should be horse-whipped through the streets and trampled by elephants, rather than fired.

It’s just a shame that all the innocent punters who work there are going to be flung onto the dole too.

Plus, the crossword sucks.

Presumably you don’t believe in pluralism and thus don’t expect the press to represent a spectrum of views, Sunny? The most important function of any media outlet is not to confirm your views but to challenge them. Only by surviving counter-arguments can your own become stronger, you can’t just cherry pick opinion to suit your arguments!

What Flying Rodent said. Let it rot.

The title of GMG’s latest report and accounts rather gives the game away – “Securing the long-term future of the Guardian” – and this is apparently the duty of the Scott Trust, to the Guardian alone.

Given year to March 2009 operating losses of £68m across their media interests (primarily the national titles) the situation is dire, and there is only so far that profits from Emap and AutoTrader can stretch. And it’s difficult to see public sector job adverts helping out much in the next few years.

Still the editor won’t be moaning too much, with last year’s pay at 445k up from 401k the year before.

“Still the editor won’t be moaning too much, with last year’s pay at 445k up from 401k the year before.”

Remind me to bring up how much money I lost the company at my next review – it seems to be the criteria for a big pay rise.

It’s not – unless it’s dramatically improved over the last four years – very good as a newspaper, I think. Forget where it stands on the political spectrum, it’s just full of tat: you get this vast wad of paper on a Sunday and there’s scarcely any of it worth reading. Go for a walk, go to the pictures, go to the cricket, go and read a book, go ad do anything on a Sunday but why trawl through hundreds of pages of the Observer just to find two or three that are worth reading and aren’t pseudo-advertising aimed at the young metropolitan with disposable income?

9. Alisdair Cameron

The GMG is bound to focus on the Guardian, because of its structure and the role of the Scott trust, which is to preserve the Guardian (and the Guardian alone) in perpetuity.
That said, while I’m deeply uncomfortable with the overall tenor of too much of the Guardian, being still in thrall to New lab and its ruinous unprincipled approach, the Observer is far worse in that respect. In fact you might see the Observer as the Guardian with its worst aspects amplified: the upper-middle class, Islington metropolitan bubble’s blinkers, as evidenced by the wholly risible women’s monthly, and the woefully out-of-touch music monthly,the fashion shoots with nothing under £300+, the holidays section with a disdain for anything affordable, the patronising (and dreadfully ill-informed) tone of any reportage in the UK that isn’t in the South East. All that’s before the appallingly partisan New labour propaganda regurgitation- god forbid genuine voices of the real left should ever intrude on a regular basis

10. organic cheeseboard

ejh is pretty much right, though I’d miss the sport section, which is the only reason i still get it – it’s streets ahead of the other sundays on sport. there is so much crap that comes with the Obs that goes straight in the (recycling) bin. the colour supplements aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on and the magazine is little more than a pamphlet, as a result.

the review has plunged alarmingly in quality, it is honestly not worth reading at all now, save the occasional film review – and it did genuinely used to be good (under alton, perversely). and that’s entirely because the features in it are either advertorials (female tories, anyone?) or alternatively ’20/30/40 years on’ pieces of no interest to anyone – and the book reviews are all done in-house now pretty much, so you get andrew anthony reviewing books on linguistics. not very good.

though anthony does the car reviews for the saturday guardian now…

I say “unless it’s dramatically improved over the last four years”, by the way, because the last time I bought it was not far short of four years ago, in January 2006, at the suggestion of my then girlfriend who was over in London, from Spain, for a weekend. The Observer had just relaunched itself and so we got a copy. After she’d flicked through it she asked “where’s the foreign news?” and indeed, there was no page dedicated to happenings overseas and only a story or two, not extensive, which could have appeared on such a page.

This was a newspaper which made its name with great foreign corrspondents. Now look at it. Or rather, don’t.

I remember when The Observer used to be essential reading back in the 70’s.

But…it’s not exactly the 70’s any more.

And what with the huge technological/structural changes in the media economy…

Ah, well.

RIP a once-great paper.

Both Saturday and Sunday papers have become pointless.
We get Torygraph and Times on Sat and takes us less than an hour to get through them over evening G&T.
Don’t bother with Sundays.
The endless lifestyle stuff – property, gardening, fashion, food, travel – goodness I’m sounding like Neal Lawson – is too dull.
Even the arts and books have become dull…and there are great arts and books blogs around of course.

If there is a real “scoop” it will be on the internets and broadcast news.

If you want “depth” then you have weeklies, foreign press, well-informed blogs to choose from as Sunny says.

And “The Week” sums everything up so well.
That and the Economist are probably all the print you really need.

Actually you don’t even need the Economist – just assume that privatisation, lower taxes and flexible labour are the answer to any given problem and you’ll be fine. (Honestly, if the Economist had a chess problem the answer would be privatisation, lower taxes and more flexible labour.)

15. organic cheeseboard

there’s still a fair amount of foreign news, and the jason burke stuff is always good. but for some reason it’s relegated behind all the comment. There’s far too much filler crap at the back – victoria ‘unfunny, and boring as hell to boot’ coren being the most guilty.

Slimming-down hasn’t worked, since they managed to axe some of the stuff that people liked the most; but the sunday telegraph must be feling fairly shaky with all of this, and the sindie too.

as for all the print you need – the LRB and when saturday comes. and if the exchange rate wasn’t so awful, the NYRB and New Yorker, too.

When Saturday Comes hasn’t been much good for a decade either (and not just because I stopped writing for it).

17. organic cheeseboard

heh, WSC is still worth getting all the same though obv it was better back in the day. and the LRB canned the only thing I ever wrote for them but i still have brand loyalty…

the ‘tan in the algarve wearing a £300 swimming costume’ thing is a problem for all the sundays, i think, not just the obs – there’s aspirational stuff and there’s just stupidity… the guardian magazine, to its credit, covers quite a lot of affordable fashion.

edit – this edit function is really good

Stopped taking the Obs about two years ago – just got fed up with the tone. The magazine is a great example: it appears to think its readers are a minor inconvenience. The columnists are arrogant, smug and self-serving; the cartoon strip isn’t funny; the articles are disjointed, poorly edited and seem badly commissioned; even the typeface is horrible.

And the women’s magazine! I liked Observer Sport Monthly when it started – then they ruined it with a redesign. But I hated the women’s mag from day one. The Obs ought to be progressive on women’s issues, but all I can recall are articles and opinions that focused on looking good and “having it all”. (Lest you think this is merely a man misunderstanding the oh-so-clever post-post-feminist tone, my attention was only drawn to the mag after my partner spat feathers for five minutes after trying to read it herself.)

It would be a shame if the Observer collapsed, as historically it has been a Liberal paper which has been prepared to criticise the powers of the state. Many guardian readers work for the state; are members of unions which represent employees of the state and Labour politicians who are drawn from their midst. Consequently, the Labour Party is the party of the state. Whereas in the 17 and 18 centuries the Tories were closely aligned with the monarch and used royal patronage to further their aims; their role has been replaced by Labour. The pension granted by the monarch has been replaced by membership of a QUANGO or some other political body. A classic example would be Suzi Leather of Charities Commission.

The guardian is a left wing middle class paper which believes more power and money to the state can solve most problems. By denying people have an obligation to make any attempt take responsibility for their lives, means more bureaucrats have to be employed to look after their needs. Consequently Guardian will never support any ,moves which help people to lead indpendent lives
if it means the state employing less bureaucrats. After all the royal pension of the 17 and 18 bought loyalty to the monarch. The Observer still believes the individual has a role in running their life.

The Observer still has some very good reporters :Jason Burke has provided superb reports on the Al Queeda and theTaliban; Henry Porter has raised crucial issues about the loss of freedoms and Simon Caulkin has looked at mistakes by management at great length. If we want foreign correspondants who speak the local languages and understand how countries actually function, then they have to be paid. This reporting by journalists who flit from country to country , rarely explain adequately what is happening; hence so many mistakes in foreign and security policy. It was J Burke who exlained Al Queeda was not some rigid structure bit was more akin to a venture capital outfit which provided funds and technical expertise to groups which supported their aims.

In fact I think part of the reason why the Guardian wants the Observer closed down
is the fundemental difference between those who are left wing and those who are liberal. Apparently one of the reasons R Alton was forced out as editor of the Observer was because he wanted to maintain a liberal stance to the paper.

Perhaps if the Observer returne to it’s roots of supporting the craftsmen, engineers and businessmen who gave us the Industrial Revolution then it would have an audience . As increasingly people work for themselves or in small groups; the belief in an ever larger government, employing ever more bureaucrats, none who can be held accountable for their mistakes is likley to become less popular. A truly liberal Observer may be very appealing.

I liked Observer Sport Monthly when it started

I always hated it: it was a combination of hoary old half-funny articles about Premiership football that had been done better in fanzines a decade before – but neither the youngish writers nor their younger target auidence realised this – and pieces by star writers in fields other than sport (e.g. Hugo Young) that tended to demonstrate that they didn’t know any more about sport than anybody else. All aimed at the Observer’s usual thin slice of the population.

I was going to defend the Observer, for which I still have a residual affection and loyalty, but then you reminded me: Henry Porter writes for it. Let it drown.

22. organic cheeseboard

OSM did occasionally have very good articles in it – I still remember one about very deep scuba diving. I also liked the reviews at the back, but they got rid of the majority a while back.

the problem with those monthly magazines is that they seem to endlessly expand, and when something isn’t an advertorial, it’s considered ‘important’ by the editor and is thus given about 10 pages in which to bore anyone who’s started it to death (the food one is esp. bad for that). In general, every article could lose at least 1000 words and be just as good (Olympian one a case in point).

And women’s monthly – oh dear. Ill-conceived from the off, and hasn’t got any better. Though the music one runs it close for staggering editorial ineptitude.

Its funny. I heard the news on Sunday night, having read the paper and become infuriated by its shite quality. It really did read like a stream of hand-wringing cliches. Consider this article – – in which Ruth Sunderland addresses the failure of citizens to step in and stop crimes. This she says is an “extreme expression of a wider malaise; part of an insidious individualism where narrow selfish interests always come first, where politicians put self-enrichment ahead of public service, and where bankers continue to award themselves bonuses while the rest of the economy gasps for air.”

Boring! If i wanted to encounter such banalities on a sunday morning I would head to church.

The fact that the observer is run as a loss making enterprise sounds progressive, but is also deeply problematic. If a business sells its goods below cost that artificially keeps competitors out. By the same token the Observer has an extreme and ossified advantage over any other publications that dont get paid to lose millions a year.

Well Sunny would say that, wouldn’t he?

Look at it from a party perspective – the Observer is the closest thing to a LibDem paper and he wants it closed down by and subsumed into a Labour paper.

Well, it don’t work like that. GMG would be cutting their nose off to spite their face – looking at the figures the Guardian is declining at three times the rate of the Observer while siphoning away all resounces and strategically undermining it for their own ‘higher’ purposes.

The current Scott Trust directorship are economic and political poison and they deserve to go down with Brown.

“Look at it from a party perspective – the Observer is the closest thing to a LibDem paper and he wants it closed down by and subsumed into a Labour paper.”

The other way round, surely?

Have to admit that Im not crying into my whiskey chaser at the possible demise of the Observer specifically as I find it unremittingly tedious, but since rumours are rife that the Independent (daily and Sunday) is heading down the pan as well I am a little perturbed that were going to end up with a press even more right wing than it is at the moment.

Having said that if the papers cant shift the copies in the market then they dont really deserve to survive.

Oh Christ, Im starting to sound like Norman Tebbit. Time for another drink …

Charlie – good points. And on top of that, Observer Woman is the most infuriating thing about it. I intentionally didn’t buy it because it had bloody Liz Jones on the front cover. Argh!

but there’s also Will Hutton, Henry Porter, Andrew Rawnsley and Catherine Bennett as regular commentators, who are pretty left of centre.

You’re right about that. I like Hutton, Porter and Rawnsley. But you know what, I like investigations more. And I don’t like to buy newspapers for columnists but news and investigations. And there’s none of that these days at the Obs.

And thomas – it has nothing to do with political leanings. In fact I’m pretty sure the Guardian will support the Libdems too.

That is a very good point.

Opinion is cheap and ubiquitous – a commodity now – and the generally ill-informed generalists (Toynbee an obvious example) “don’t like it up ’em”. Well – tough.

Investigations are expensive and rare.

The Torygraph’s publishing of the expenses is obviously worth a million BoJo columns.

Sack the “star” columnists – start with Milne, surely he can’t be paid to write his reactionary rubbish though? – and keep the real journos.

But, as Alan Bennett says on Dead Ringers – they won’t, will they?

“Having said that if the papers cant shift the copies in the market then they dont really deserve to survive.

Oh Christ, Im starting to sound like Norman Tebbit. Time for another drink …”

You kind of have a point though. And surely – from a progressive and democratic standpoint – a newspaper cotinuing to hold a significant position because a tiny super-rich organisation think it should is even worse than a newspaper surviving because lots of people – however stupidly – choose to ‘vote with their feet’ and buy it.

Absolutely “meh” about whether it lives or dies to be honest. Not even the presence of Henry Porter and the Azed crossword are enough to keep me buying the Observer these days, though with the rise of online editions of newspapers and blogging there’s less and less reason for me to stump up for dead-tree copies of the papers at the newsagent’s. Sure, political bias is one factor – though this applies right across the board as opposed to the Observer per se – but the reasons that “organic cheeseboard” states are more relevant. I don’t fancy shelling out my hard-earned on “lifestyle” pieces about floating walnut shelves, luxury sports cars that not even Jeremy Clarkson can afford, or photographs of Tara Pompkinson-Tompkinson looking decorative and useless in Klosters. Did all those trees die for this?

Will Hutton, Henry Porter, Andrew Rawnsley, left-wing? I know it’s easy to play the “they’re not left-wing” game, but surely Will Hutton is as New Labour as they come, and the other two are much further to the right than Hutton?

Presumably you don’t believe in pluralism and thus don’t expect the press to represent a spectrum of views, Sunny?

Gimpy – of course I do! But if there was a choice between the Guardian and Obs I’ll take the first.

If it’s a choice between the Guardian and the Observer and you choose the former then on this evidence you will soon be refused the choice of either. Choose the latter and the larger paper won’t be able to postpone the inevitable confrontation with its’ terrible mismanagement.

Any problems with the Observer as is is a criticism of the Guardian groups’ sacrificing of the role of the Sunday title – it’s only since the Guardian took over that The Observer stopped the investigations and in-depth foreign coverage it built it’s reputation on.

GMG strategy has put a raft of local papers in peril, but those it has relinquished ownership of have already begun climbing out of the mire as they get back to the fundamentals of proper journalism. Frankly the laziness of filling copy with endless commentary without providing facts is symptomatic of the ‘left’s’ inability to face reality.

I know it’s easy to play the “they’re not left-wing” game, but surely Will Hutton is as New Labour as they come, and the other two are much further to the right than Hutton?

Hutton shares much of 97 vintage Nu Lab, but he is first and foremost a Keynesian, a pov Brown has belatedly come round to (and Blair possibly not at all).

Porter may be rightish (I don’t know that much about his background) but can currently be found railing against the State’s trampling of civil liberties week after week after week. Repetitive he might be, Nu Lab he ain’t.

edit (just because I can): and I think The Obs’ foreign coverage has improved in the last 2/3 years. Seems like the only Sunday paper to regularly look beyond Washington for background pieces.

I only read the Observer for William Keegan’s economics column. Other than that it’s a load of pro-nu-Labour tosh..

Nick Cohen can always get a job working for the Spectator or something..

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    : Save the Observer? Why exactly?

  2. Charlie Beckett

    I agree with this but for slightly different reasons: RT @libcon Save the Observer Why exactly

  3. Paranormal Guru

    Liberal Conspiracy » Save the Observer Why exactly | creating a …: About the author: Sunny Hundal is editor ..

  4. sunny hundal

    Save the Observer Why exactly

  5. thabet

    Yep, I will not be sad to see it go if it does RT @pickledpolitics Save the Observer Why exactly

  6. Tom James

    Here’s for The Guardian on Sunday:

  7. sunny hundal

    @JTownend yup, my thoughts here:

  8. Liberal Conspiracy

    : Save the Observer? Why exactly?

  9. Liberal Conspiracy

    : Save the Observer Why exactly

  10. Charlie Beckett

    I agree with this but for slightly different reasons: RT @libcon Save the Observer Why exactly

  11. Does it matter if The Observer closes?

    […] The Observer must survive as a Sunday newspaper of ‘the left’ (however that’s defined); while Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy is happy to sacrifice the Obs to secure the long-term future of the […]

  12. Paranormal Guru

    Liberal Conspiracy » Save the Observer Why exactly | creating a …: About the author: Sunny Hundal is editor ..

  13. sunny hundal

    Save the Observer Why exactly

  14. thabet

    Yep, I will not be sad to see it go if it does RT @pickledpolitics Save the Observer Why exactly

  15. Tom James

    Here’s for The Guardian on Sunday:

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