The Reading Room

This Sun won’t set world on fire

So, as widely predicted by all and Sun-dry last July when the News of the World shut down amid a ‘phone hacking shame frenzy’, to coin some tabloideze, the Sun rose on Sunday for the first time yesterday. The ‘on’ was missing from the masthead, but it was all deliberately familiar elsewhere.

No sign of any fake-sheik entrapped celebrity, just a Frankenstein-lite blend of existing Sun tabloid tropes and shadows of the old News of the World stylings amid the 92 pages, together with 48 pages of Goals Plus and 64 glossy pages of women’s mag Fabulous. Word from Wapping in advance of the launch was that they were ditching the hardcore sensationalist sleaze of the News of the World heyday and going for a softer, more family-friendly brand of Sun-sleaze instead. Murdoch quoted as saying he’d be happy with sales of anything over 2 million were part of the low-key strategy – humble days are here again.

A splash on Amanda Holden, and four more pages of spreads inside of her being not very well when giving birth recently, was a sign of the low-voltage fare throughout. ‘Moments from death’ was a melodramatic sub-head on the front page about Amanda’s health scare. The ‘our lawyers are watching’ warning was entirely unnecessary, as it’s not the kind of earth-shattering exclusive anyone is interested in pinching. Perhaps it was just Sun irony hard at work.

It’s a sign of Murdoch’s chutzpah to be launching this title at a time when newspaper circulation generally is in freefall and his empire is far from out of the woods with various criminal and judicial investigations continuing unabated. There’s more than a sense of pragmatism about his allowing arrested Sun hacks back to work and giving a continued lease of life on Sunday to familiar News of the Screws faces like David Wooding and Rachel Richardson. Maybe journos applying for jobs on the new title would do well to add ‘never phone hacked or bribed coppers’ to their CVs to provide that extra level of reassurance that might clinch them a job.

The choice of new columnists was both amusing and bizarre – with Katie Price, rich and reviled in equal proportions, saying coverage of Whitney Houston’s funeral was intrusive and that despite getting her PA to namedrop her to get tables in fully booked restaurants, “being me doesn’t open doors.” But her tribute to Marie Colvin, a reporter whose work she may never have read, betrayed the hand of the same kind of sleepwalking jobsworth ghost writers who churn out Price’s autobiographies and novels.

Boorish Toby Young was dissing The Artist on the eve of it winning five Oscars and there were makeovers with “style guru” Nancy Dell’olio which was such an outrageous concept, they had to put ‘yes really’ in brackets after that job description.

There were signs aplenty in the various spreads that the Sun might be stretched a bit thin over seven days to sustain the true paroxysms of tabloid excitement, as war widow Christina Schmid’s heartfelt confessional was lifted from her forthcoming book, Liverpool race row Luis Suarez’s gran was interviewed to predictably little effect and the heartbroken parents of murdered Nikitta Grender were further exploited for some angry quotes.

Of course there were pictures, pictures everywhere – Becks carrying Harper Seven on his shoulders, penguins, Holly Willoughby in leather (lifted from Cosmo), Kelly Rowland topless on Page 3 but modestly covering her assets – this is a ‘family newspaper’ after all, as Paul McMullan memorably informed Lord Leveson about the Screws not so long ago. A terrific set of pictures of ships left high and dry on a sea of sand was squandered on less than half a page of 28.

Showbiz page leads were as limp as lettuce, and even a few ‘exclusive’ tags on the bylines couldn’t lift the spirits of Gary Barlow covering a George Harrison song for an M&S jingle, Blake Fielder-Civil getting a job as a drugs counsellor and a Dancing on Ice skater getting a cut on the face.

Typical readership-focused advertising seemed to be back in rude health, with plenty of ads for Morrisons, Iceland, the usual sofa suspects and mobile phone companies. Showbiz names were plastered everywhere with welcome back endorsements – including Simon Cowell (for which read ‘I pay Max Clifford a lot of money to keep anything nasty about me off your pages’), Tinie Tempah, Amir Khan, JLS, Boris Johnson, Sara Payne and Paddy McGuinness. If ever there was a shadow government in waiting, this was it.

The other redtop tabs had also dropped their cover price to 50p yesterday to take The Sun head- on in a launch day price war, but signs are that sufficient numbers will drift back to the Wapping title to keep it afloat. Not exactly the readers’ revolt that some witnesses have been calling for at Leveson – the moment for the public to change its reading habits for good may have passed, but the signs are that proprietors and editors are nonetheless treading a very cautious path for now. This Sun won’t set the world on fire. AW

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