Sunday Times: What were they thinking?

I got a shock when I opened my favourite newspaper this Sunday. For some reason, at which I can only guess, the sport section has been reduced to tabloid format. In fact, the sport section seems to have become part of the SoccerLife insert… and even worse, relegated to the back of the insert. The reason why this is a strange decision is that, last time I checked, soccer is a category of sport, not the other way round so it doesn’t make much sense. Also the fact that it is in a smaller tabloid format in my mind reduces its importance.

I think I know why they did it. Sport traditionally doesn’t attract much advertising in newspapers. It was probably this that caused them to shunt it. But most papers of worth view their sport sections as a “loss leader”. It doesnt attract advertising, but the readers love it — and it’s an essential part of the news mix.

This decision was particularly strange because the Sunday Times has a very visual “tell us what you think” communication campaign on the go with their readers, but it appears this isn’t really a decision for and by the readers. I hope they review their thinking on this one.

Also — can someone tell me why the backpage of the Sunday Times has regularly found its way on the frontpage of the Business Times in recent months? I don’t know if displaying Victoria Secret Girls and the like is an attempt to boost readership, but it misses the mark for me — and reduces what should be an authoritative business weekly, into something cheap and trivial. I am no prude, I love the back page — but not in Business Times, surely?

Comments (36)

  1. Ray H wrote::

    Now, now, let’s not get over-excited. When I last checked the M&G ran 4 (that’s FOUR) pages (that’s TABLOID pages) of sport – incorporating crosswords and sukoku. So the ST must be doing something right with 24 tabloid pages of sport on a very low ad measure. The section is called SoccerLife & Sport because of the unbelievable strength of the SoccerLife brand and the high rating given to it by our readers.

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 3:13 am #
  2. Ray H wrote::

    Apologies, full disclosure … I work at the ST.

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 3:14 am #
  3. matthew buckland wrote::

    Haha… i was commenting as one of your loyal readers/punters, not as someone who works at the M&G…

    It’s very confusing that Sport is a category of soccer…not the other way round as you would expect. ie.. it should be “Sunday Times Sport, incorporating Soccer Life”.

    That way you get the strength of the SL brand across, but still do not subjugate a very important section…

    Just humble advice from a punter!

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 3:53 am #
  4. Ray H wrote::

    Taken in the right spirit, promise! Its just that Tuesday morning is actually Monday morning for us Sunday hacks and so one can be a little cranky. Seriously, though, you are a VERY FAIR commentator and you comment on the new look website proved this … unless you were trying to lull us into a false sense of security … bwahaha

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 4:10 am #
  5. Vincent Maher wrote::

    what a let-down…. its like Guy Fawkes with no firecrackers

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 5:50 am #
  6. Colin Daniels wrote::

    Yeah – it really looked like a genuine flamewar at one stage but I guess it was quickly replaced with sweet smelling flowers…

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 6:21 am #
  7. matthew Buckland wrote::

    The irony of V & C posting these comments is inescapable…

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 6:32 am #
  8. matthew Buckland wrote::

    RAY — yeah, i can be fair and not vitriolic (sometimes)…

    i think the ST website design is great… how are u dealing with the fact that its branded the Sunday Times, but publishes daily… how do other publications in a similar situation deal with this… or do you think users dont care ultimately?

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 6:39 am #
  9. Ray H wrote::

    Its a catch 22. The powerful brand is a good driver, but it also does say: Sunday’s only. What we have to do is get on top of running stories (eg Kebble accused last week) to send a signal to the market that we are real time players… As for V and C and their comments … a certain laconic wry ironic smile flickers and then fades …

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 7:05 am #
  10. matt wrote::

    I got a trackback today from a blog linking to this post and expanding on it some more… I see Bob the blogger has had a few more things to say on this issue. A bit more articulate than me, I hasten to add:

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 5:28 am #
  11. arthurg wrote::

    Ray once wrote something mean about one of my books, so I’m going to side with Matt on this one (maybe I can attract a flare, Vince). I’m a big fan of Soccer Life, and kept it for detailed reading well after I’d sent the rest of the paper off for recycling. But I agree that the sports section has been relegated and does not give the same sense of serious sports journalism in this format (even with the same serious sports journalists giving the same quality coverage in the best traditions of Sunday Times sports coverage).

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 1:28 pm #
  12. Vincent Maher wrote::

    Arthur, you have become soft in your old age. Remember the days when you procliamed the best and worst web sites – when you would slate people for just about anything? Come on, let’s get this on.

    Ray, I don’t read the ST because the pages are too big and you mix celebrity news with politics. Also, your mag is crap.

    Now can we please start rumbling??

    Thursday, November 23, 2006 at 4:59 am #
  13. BOb wrote::

    Couldn’t believe my eyes when the ST decided that the most important ‘World news’ story this weekend was Tom Cruise marrying Katie Holmes… oh yes, and there was that short story about real violence and trouble in the Congo.

    Just stirring the pot…

    Thursday, November 23, 2006 at 10:55 am #
  14. matt wrote::

    eish… it’s getting hot in here!

    Hey arthur i never knew u were a big soccer fan?

    Thursday, November 23, 2006 at 10:58 am #
  15. matt wrote::

    Looks like marketingweb have picked up this blog…

    Friday, November 24, 2006 at 4:02 am #
  16. BOb wrote::

    picked up this blog… hehehe
    BOb the blogger indeed.

    Friday, November 24, 2006 at 4:11 am #
  17. Matt wrote::

    So what are you saying bob the blogger??

    Friday, November 24, 2006 at 4:42 am #
  18. BOb wrote::

    BOb the blogger… Marketingweb…

    Friday, November 24, 2006 at 8:10 am #
  19. Ray H wrote::

    And so it came to pass that the finest minds in the new media spent a week debating the merits of a 24 page newsprint sports section … lol. Good weekend, everyone.

    Friday, November 24, 2006 at 9:55 am #
  20. matt wrote::

    Bob, you’re a dangerous man!

    Ray, Bridge — who has been following this debate — asked me to ask you if she still has a job when she gets back?!

    Friday, November 24, 2006 at 2:25 pm #
  21. Vincent Maher wrote::

    Tervant, er… Bob seems to be a troll but we knew this already and it is now clear to me that Arthur has become a wuss and Ray has a secret crush on Katie. I knew it all along but decided to break the news on Matt’s blog seeing as he likes traffic.

    Seriously though Ray, I hear there is something about to pop out of the bowels of Johncom on a daily basis? Don’t force me to start a rumour here, I want an exclusive…

    Saturday, November 25, 2006 at 1:02 pm #
  22. BOb wrote::

    yeah its the daily paper for ST subscribers… monday times, tuesday times, wednesday times anyone?
    not sure if it makes sense, although i’m sure that got advertiser buy-in…
    but hey – i’m just a “troll”

    Sunday, November 26, 2006 at 6:15 am #
  23. Jaxon Rice wrote::

    Heh. This post reminded me that my yesterday my housemate was outraged when she could not find the Back Page of the Sunday Times in its regular spot. Virgin Mobile must have paid a pretty penny for that full page ad.

    Its an interesting strategy to make your loyal (and somewhat stupid in the case of my housemate) readers search through the entire newspaper for their favourite section.

    Monday, November 27, 2006 at 1:40 am #
  24. Ray H wrote::

    Apologies. We should never have moved the Back Page to the …. er … back page?

    Bridge? You okay there? He’s treating you right?

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 3:11 am #
  25. Ray H wrote::

    As for the daily thing:, sjs.d.d dnmapjdkjf;spaijkfd sl9ejdksja;sdjfdkja. heehehehe!

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 3:14 am #
  26. Vincent Maher wrote::

    Ray, that secret code is amazing. It took a while to decrypt and figure out the algorithm but I got it.

    Let’s see if you can understand this:


    Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 3:16 am #
  27. Ray H wrote::

    What I meant to say was iknowandimnottellingcausethenitwouldntbeasecretanymoreokayidontactuallyknowbutidontwanttoseemignorantorsomethinglikethatormaybeimsayingidontknowasasmokescreenforahighlysecretprojectorsomething

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 3:43 am #
  28. arthurg wrote::

    Time flies when you’re having bunfight.
    Vince, I’ve always been a softy. I even use punctuation. Matt, I’ve always been a soccer loon. I have followed Chelsea for 36 years, Wits University for 27 years, and bafana bafana for 14 years (and led a delegation of Mail & Guardian Forum participants to several of the Nations Cup games in 96, to boot!). All three have broken my hearts many times, but what joy to find Wits at the top of the league, barely six months after making a comeback from the vale of sadness called the Mvela league. As for Chelsea, I was always remorselessly mocked for their underachievement, and now I am remorselessly mocked for their overachievement. Same old same old, and I’m enjoying the view from up there.
    The relevance? As a supporter of teams that have always been either ignored or over-analysed, I am keenly aware of the nuances of sports coverage in terms of writers trotting out the same old conventional wisdom versus having real insight and appreciation. this doesn’t mean they have to like my teams, but it does mean they have to understand the dynamics that shape these sides and not go for the cheap “Abromovic is buying the league” and “Chelsea is ruining the game” type crap. (Real Madrid has been spending this kind of money for years, and look what it’s go them in recent times).
    In that context, the Sunday Times sports coverage is excellent, and the writers are quality journalists, whom the reader of sports coverage is able to take seriously (dare I say more seriously than in other sections? I don’t want to spoil Vincent’s appreciation of my being comfortable in my wussilinity). But not in tabloid format.

    Friday, December 8, 2006 at 6:30 am #
  29. arthurg wrote::

    The power of blog! Barely three weeks into the redesign, the sports section goes broadsheet. And yes, it did feel like a quality read. Matt, you have the power to move those presses. Well done: it’s one of the first cases of the blogosphere making a major impact on mainstream media in South Africa.

    Monday, December 11, 2006 at 12:45 am #
  30. matthew buckland wrote::

    I’m sure this blog contributed in a small way with the many other reader complaints they received. Maybe Ray can enlighten us???

    The sports section looks so much better — the change back to broadsheet has made a world of difference. I must admit I actually read the sports section this time whereas in the last few weeks I just couldn’t muster the energy. It might have had something to do with our performance on the rugby field too?

    Still waiting for the change to the title of sport, though… when are they going to get their heads around that one?

    “Sport, incorporating Soccer Life”

    Just do it!

    Monday, December 11, 2006 at 12:57 am #
  31. Vincent Maher wrote::

    Yeah I am also interested in how this choice was made. Ray, was there a lot of feedback from readers or was it the pressure of Matt’s blog?

    Monday, December 11, 2006 at 1:09 am #
  32. Ray H wrote::

    There were a coupla things:
    1. The print quality on the tabloid was abominal and it just looked Shreky. We couldn’t improve on this despite many efforts.
    2. It was a production nightmare – I’ll spare you the details, but on Sat night we were missing key UK footie results and stuff because two pages had to be sent simultaneously …
    3. And yes, I for one was very moved by Matt’s column. For someone with a new born baby howling in the background to put in a coupla hundred passionate words like that, tells you something.
    4. And the one thing this paper does is listen to its readers.


    Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 1:54 am #
  33. matt wrote::

    hehe.. bridge my finest critic says there is a fine line between passionate and psycho.

    The crying baby drives me to blog!!!

    It looks much better Ray. I think it shows the strength of the paper that you can listen to your readers, make the change back — and do it all so quickly…

    Now for “Sunday Times Sport, incorporating Soccer Life” ūüôā

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006 at 10:58 am #
  34. arthurg wrote::

    ‚ÄúSunday Times Sport, incorporating Soccer Life‚ÄĚ… ‚ÄúSunday Times Sport, incorporating Soccer Life‚ÄĚ … (are you having a good time?!) ‚ÄúSunday Times Sport, incorporating Soccer Life‚ÄĚ … (everybody now!) … ‚ÄúSunday Times Sport, incorporating Soccer Life‚ÄĚ … ‚ÄúSunday Times Sport, incorporating Soccer Life‚ÄĚ

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006 at 12:48 pm #
  35. matt wrote::



    Thursday, December 14, 2006 at 1:36 am #
  36. Ray H wrote::

    Hey, we have to save a little face. Now back off.

    Thursday, December 14, 2006 at 2:28 am #

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