As this splash on London’s Evening News demonstrates, a newspaper’s last big story is its own demise. This front page was 31 October 1980. That day, the copytaster – the person who watches the news agency wires to spot any stories the paper should be carrying – was Robin Elias, and he was the first of the staff to know of the closure. It must have been particularly galling for a paper in its 99th year. Luckily for him, he got a job as night editor on ITV’s News at Ten and went on to become managing editor there.
It was a surprise reading that your paper would be closing from the Press Association! Yet, that may well be the situation many journalists are expecting at the moment as cost-cutting proprietors wind down their print editions in favour of digital.
The US picture weekly Life took a different tack to the Evening News, with no mention of the closure on the cover of its last issue (29 December 1972). However, this may well be because the cover was ready before the closure was announced by its owners, Time Inc. Instead, editor Hedley Donovan carried a full-page editorial on the weekly magazine’s closure on the first inside page.
As he says readers have reminded him, the magazine had not failed. It had, after all, lasted almost 40 years and been one of the biggest-selling titles in the US for that time.
Today took a similar tack to the Evening News with its closure in 1995. This would have been less unexpected, given that it had outlived its usefulness to Rupert Murdoch in helping him break out of hot metal in Fleet Street and into the electronic makeup era at Wapping. It was a paper with a short history – having been launched by Eddie Shah on 4 March 1986. Shah had won a vicious industrial relations battle against the NGA, the print union, in his Warrington freesheet newspaper group and then launched Today as a national colour tabloid using new technology. It had a target sale of 1.2 million copies, but rarely exceeded a third of this figure. One editor, David Montgomery, resigned after printing an apology to readers for the poor quality of the paper.
Murdoch wasn’t going to lose Today’s readers easily though and inside was a promotional copy of the Sun – complete with a top-of-the-page story written by Tony Blair and headlined ‘Why Labour readers are turning to the Sun‘. Today had taken a leftish editorial stance, while the Sun was traditionally rightwing, but switched allegiance when Blair established a rapport with Murdoch.