The shortlisting of Metro as national newspaper of the year has been controversialhere we present two views on the nomination

Hats off to
Metro for its two nominations in the British Press Awards: national
newspaper of the year and – with its lead story on DJ John Peel’s death
– for front page of the year.

Call me pedantic, but Metro isn’t
actually a national newspaper. As columnist Brian MacArthur noted in
The Times , Metro “is now picked up by a million readers a day in 13
cities, including 490,000 in London”.

If you live in one of the
12 provincial cities where the remaining 510,000 copies are
distributed, unless you are a public-transport passenger, you are lucky
to find a copy after 10am within a quarter-mile radius of a railway or
bus station. By all means, create a new category to nominate Metro as
“seminational newspaper of the year”, but it should certainly be
disqualified from the national category.

However, in an age when
every day brings another meaningless awards ceremony, and every other
paper’s masthead proclaims itself “Newspaper of the year”, maybe it
won’t hurt if Metro illogically wins that category.

As for the
John Peel cover, this is no more than a competently designed,
aesthetically appealing, but hastily thrown together front page. It
used an archive studio portrait of Peel with rejigged agency copy (if
memory serves)n and the superficially emotive headline “The day the
music died”. The headline is not original – it was used by at least two
other papers on the same day, as were similar portraits of Peel.

Library
images can, of course, be highly potent. But surely it isn’t
awardworthy for Metro to cobble together a front page with an archive
headshot, an uninspired headline, and a bit of mediocre copy that were
no more noteworthy than the Peel coverage in all other national papers.
Sorry, genuinely national papers.

Meanwhile, Metro boasts it “has
made journalism history by becoming the first free title to be
shortlisted” in the national category. Well, yes and no, depending on
how you look at it.

In fact, some national papers have been
partially free, if you count bulk copies and the occasional promotional
days when copies are handed out free.

Even if you exclude that
caveat from your definition of a free paper, the boast rings hollow.
Metro ‘s phrasing makes it sound like a great feat, implying it has
unprecedentedly won a shortlisting place above all other free
contenders. But, the above caveat notwithstanding, how many other
(pseudo-) national free papers have ever existed?

OK, thousands
of free trade/niche/ promotional papers have been published over the
decades – but one assumes the judging panel confines its attention to
general-interest, generalnews titles.

Francis Harvey Exeter

I hope your mind is not closed to Metro ‘s qualities because I would like to respond to the points you have made.

Metro continues to grow and the passing of the one million mark this
year marks a significant milestone. As the fourth-largest circulation
figure in the country (and, yes, I can understand all the arguments as
to the significance of that figure against paid-fors), the fact remains
that it is the widest-read paper among the 18 to 45 urbanite audience
it is aimed at.

At what point will it become a national paper? If
not one million, will it be two million, 20 million, 123.456 million?
One million is as good a marker as any.

Yes, it runs out before
10am– that is a major reason for its success. It reaches the audience
it wants to on their way to work. It is one of the best distributed
papers in Britain from that point of view, with returns in relatively
minute numbers.

You are dismissive of our front page.

Surely
almost every front page on a major issue is “cobbled together” from
agency copy, archive photos (John Peel was dead – what other photo
would we use than an ‘archive’ one?) and a resonating cliché or
variation on one. The fact that this page has been shortlisted by
fellow professionals is an objective measure of its qualities.

It
is easy to dismiss Metro ‘s success as due to it being free and you ask
how many other free national papers have existed. Isn’t that the point?
Others have tried; many others are thinking of trying now we have paved
the way.

Metro has succeeded and at some point that success has to be recognised.

I
don’t believe our readers merely pick us up because we are free. Watch
a Tube station entrance in London any day and you can see commuters
avoiding other free products – from shampoo to magazines. They devour
Metro .

It is also a semi-quality tabloid, it is stapled, it is
apolitical and has no columnists. It has delivered a quality product,
for free, to an audience, many of whom who had stopped buying other
newspapers. That is why it is successful.

Our readers are used to getting news free from the TV, radio or Internet, so why should they pay for a newspaper?

Those
of us on the editorial side don’t see Metro as a free newspaper; we see
it as a paper that we are proud of and wish to bring high standards to
– like any other journalists.

We believe it is a pattern for the
future – free newspapers have broken through to be the highest
circulation papers in several European countries.

It is important to prove that we need not compromise our standards just because we don’t charge our readers.

Again
I suspect you might argue that Metro is undermining other papers; I
believe the truth is that the market is changing andMetro is just ahead
of the game.

Kieran Meeke Features editor, Metro

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