Taking care of business

Like all good journalists these days, I have to admit that this is not an unbiased comparison of the two papers, as I have a slight connection to The Sun’s business page.

But these days my main contact with the tabloids is the amusement they cause me on my trips into London. I see the serious City workers board the train with their copies of the FT, and The Sun or Mirror tucked underneath. As the journey starts, they begin with the FT which has an impressive 80 pages crammed with detailed business news. Somehow, they seem to be able to read this in about five minutes. Then they spend the rest of the journey deeply engrossed with their tabloid of choice.

So, what do I make of the papers’ business sections? The first thing to say is that it took some effort to find them. In both papers they came immediately after the horoscopes and the cartoons.

What might a typical Sun or Mirror reader want from the business coverage? If they are looking for a few features on familiar companies and some stories that they can discuss with their mates later then both papers deliver.

The Sun leads with the controversial financial pay-off being given to Adam Applegarth, the ex-chief executive of Northern Rock. It contrasts his treatment with that of the bank’s mortgage holders, who are facing a level of repossessions that is running at more than three times the 2006 level. This story is covered in the main section of the Mirror (page 6) with details given of the £14bn of savers’ cash withdrawn as the panic spread in the wake of the crisis.

The only other story to get a picture in The Sun’s business section concerns the Royal Mail’s ‘postman of the year”, who has raised £7,000 for charity through his marathon runs despite the fact that he is himself suffering from cancer. He is clearly a very brave man, but one wonders why this human-interest story needs to be on The Sun’s City page. I guess the picture of GMTV’s Lorraine Kelly handing him his award might explain its inclusion.

In a similar manner, the Mirror’s two main features include a picture of a glamorous model representing the upturn in profits at the fashion chain Zara, and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale after the brewer Scottish and Newcastle accepted a joint bid from Heineken and Carlsberg. Apparently the thinking is that these pictures draw in readers.

Both papers include a quick overview of the London stock market, with the share-price information for more than 100 UK-listed companies. They also include currency rates for lucky readers about to fly off to warmer climates. The closing level of the FTSE 100 index is included, with The Sun usefully telling us its high and low for 2008.

Both columns were well-suited to the style of their respective publications. The articles are concise and present the facts clearly. It would have been good to see some more analysis included, in particular some coverage of international business news, but that might not appeal to the readership of the papers. Sadly, I doubt if there is a market for Reading and Understanding the Sun or the Mirror!

Kevin Boakes is the author of Reading and Understanding the Financial Times, just published by FT Prentice-Hall

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