The Grey Cardigan 21.09.06

WITH THE alarm bells ringing as sales plummet, news emerges from the management's glass-boxed Gulag that extra funding has been secured to help rouse the slumbering Evening Beast.

An extra one million pounds, in fact — a not inconsiderable amount of money. We while away an hour of letters page subbing (dustbins, dog shit and dragonflies are the hot topics) deciding how to spend it.

We could have 10 more subs and 10 more reporters, with a few bob left over to reinstate the lucrative evening dress expense allowance. We could produce a modest updated edition, giving people news that isn't already 12 hours old before it hits the streets. We could even carry football results and race cards, court verdicts and car chases.

This idyll is soon rudely shattered as the memo pings into the inbox. We are invited to a presentation entitled "Pushing The Envelope", at which the company's plans to "sweat our assets" thus producing "added value in the electronic age" will be revealed. Sadly, the masterplan appears to be a new website, something called "podcasts"

and a risible plan to have Evening Beast journalists creating their own video reports. This is deemed necessary to "reduce the decaying age profile of the demographic and to generate inclusion from those currently deselecting from purchasing decisions".

I think this means that we're going after younger readers again.

Well, not readers as such: just people who might click onto one of our electronic offerings, so allowing us to kid advertisers that a nanosecond glimpse of a website banner advert produces the same response as a full-colour, full-page newsprint offering used to do.

There is a fundamental flaw in this strategy that no one seems to want to admit. Young people don't buy the Evening Beast because it is perceived as an old-fashioned brand. And it is, rightly so. The vast majority of our still-profitable readers are over 50. It is they who deserve to benefit from investment and improvement.

So what on earth makes the red-socked twats think that 20-somethings will suddenly flock to our doors just because we now publish the Electronic Beast? If they won't put it in their pocket, why would they open it in their browser? It's madness. Youth wants celebrity froth and dance music listings, not our daily diet of dustbins, dog shit and dragonflies.

With what appears to be our last throw of the dice doomed to failure, we console ourselves by looking forward to the videocasts featuring our permanently-dishevelled court reporter, whose blue padded anorak and bottle-bin specs have in the past led alarmed circuit judges to demand his removal to the public benches because he was frightening the jurors.

We must take these small pleasures where we can.

THE COMPETITION to find the nation's worst columnist may be approaching the finishing straight. Currently contesting the lead are The Guardian's woeful Simon Hatstand, who specialises in homoerotic witterings about football, and The Independent's house sloth Simon Carr, who's been boring despairing readers to death with a weekly piece in which nothing ever happens. Ever.

The premise was promising: "The author has sold his house to finance a manufacturing project in the hope of making a small fortune to finance his old age". This apparently involved inventing some kind of electrical device that was to be made in China. And that was it. Week after week, month after month, we've waited in vain for something to happen.

Alas, there are signs that activity might soon intrude on Carr's soporific sojourn. He informs us that 129 boxes containing his invention are now making their way here by ship so, unless something goes wrong, the end is in sight.

Please God, don't let there be pirates…

A SNIFFY piece in The Guardian's media gossip column refers to Associated seeking distributors for its London Lite freebie for "a princely £8 an hour".

That may not seem a fortune to the metropolitan ponces at Farringdon Road, but it is certainly more than Associated's bastard child Northcliffe pays some of its trainee journalists (even based on an improbable 37.5 hour week), and undoubtedly more than the Guardian Media Group expects some of its weekly journos to live on.

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