Is there a future for the Observer ?

13.09.09

Last Observer Woman printed in January 2010

Can we imagine Sunday’s without the Observer?  This week there’s been a queue of former Editors asking how we could let the paper of Orwell sink without trace. Roger Alton even gushed about how well it was currently being edited (Not sure how well that would have gone down with his office-mates at the Sindy) on Radio 4’s media show.

Peter Wilby, wise old media bird as ever, argued that that,  actually, it is very possible to imagine an Observerless Sabbath.  I think he’s got a point. The Observer has a great review section with some beautiful writers -  Tim Adam Rachel Cooke are some of the best  general features writers around; Miranda Sawyer on Radio and Kitty Empire on music are great too.  But in terms of politics is it really the fearless liberal voice of old?  I think they got too close to Blair under Alton’s watch and on Iraq their strident support was out of synch with their own readership.   From what I hear, This almost became a badge of honour in the Observer office. Someone pretty high up on the paper once told me that whereas the Guardian is a dour Northern science teacher, the Observer is its hip apolitical gap-year daughter.

But the demise of the Observer is about more than political attitudes. I’m not the first to say it, but I suspect it has been damaged more by the huge success of Saturday newspapers than any drift to the right.  The Saturday Guardian is wonderful – the featuresy news pages look gorgeous – and Ian Jack’s column about anything from  Southwold to the price of milk.  By Sunday morning I often find myself newspapered out and feel a slight sinking feeling looking at the hefty shrink-wrapped Observer package.   The Guardian/Observer have already merged their journalists across the papers. Would it not make sense for them to do what the FT do and print  a Weekend Edition covering Saturday and Sunday – featuring the best of both publications?  RB

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