What went wrong with the New Day?

On Friday, the experimental newspaper the New Day will print what it likely to be its last edition, after a mere sixty-eight days of circulation.

The project’s life has been shorter than even its own “Life is short, let’s live it well” slogan predicted.

Industry insiders say the circulation had dropped below the 40,000 figure, which means the national publication, printed by the same people who churn out the Mirror, was printing less than twenty times the circulation of my student rag, Forge Press.

I was unexpectedly excited when the New Day launched.

A few months into a postgraduate journalism course, I’d been submerged in a world of journalists bemoaning the inevitable end of print, talking digital this and digital that. Social video, clickbait, analytics and content aggregation were the buzzwords of modern trade. The first tool I was taught to use for journalism was a smartphone.

The first journalistic tool I was taught to use was the smartphone.

Against this unfamiliar backdrop, the idea of a new print newspaper, taking the best parts of online, made waves in my mind. The art direction, standing apart from other Trinity Mirror titles and evoking high quality magazine, had no small part in this.

I dutifully picked up the first, free edition of the newspaper.

We’ll try to be positive

The New Day’s editorial ethos was well-placed. “ We won’t sensationalise or terrify you with the news.” they claim on their landing page, “and above all, we’ll try to be positive”. That’s a position not unrelated to the dull feel-goodism of Upworthy and other online news sources targeted at millenials.

This attitude in a website is stale. But in a newspaper, it felt like a vital USP; a statement that one of the things most hated about traditional papers — their steeping negativity — didn’t necessarily need to be true. In a post-Leveson world, perhaps this could win back the hearts and minds of the public. Journalists, after all, still rank just below estate agents on scales of public trust.

The New Day’s feel-good attitude was a clear reaction to the prevalence of that attitude on the web.

But it wasn’t long before the cracks in the dream started to show. I never picked up another edition of the New Day after that first, free edition.

As to why that happened, I don’t know. Perhaps the New Day never offered anything to my generation that online wasn’t already giving us. There’s no shortage of possibilities.

The New Day had virtually no online presence. Their website has a logo, a short message, and links to Facebook and Twitter. That’s it.

While this wasn’t the point of the experiment, the paper’s failure proves that it’s basically impossible to gain any market share unless it’s doing so on the back of online.

While pretty, this isn’t what you want your website to look like unless you’re in the middle of upgrading it.

My friend, Robin Wilde, is creating a gaming magazine. It’s traditional in every way, but print came after online. To succeed with a publication, you need to build an audience online first, because that’s where the youngsters go.

The printed Cubed Gamers magazine.

The older demographics couldn’t save the New Day either, as its uplifting but apparently ineffectual $5m TV ad campaign shows. The Boomers and their children are comfortable with their Suns, Daily Mails and Guardians. It was pitching young content at an old audience.

Decades too late

If there’s a future of print to be had, now is clearly not the time to discover it. There is still too much flux, too much change.

Perhaps in a decade or so, the industry will find another steady state. But at the moment newspapers survive only due to their size, with the smaller players shutting down weekly.

Perhaps newspapers will survive as vanity objects. Perhaps they will need to put quality over quantity, becoming even more like magazines. As the generations advance, perhaps soon no one will get their news from dead trees.

Whatever went wrong with the New Day, the concept always felt slightly off-colour. The attempt was admirable, but its existence was either decades too early or (more likely) decades too late.

We won’t know which for a while.