Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read the Sun?
Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.note
The United Kingdom has a good number of nationally distributed newspapers, each of which targets a specific political or social group (rather than a specific region like in the USnote ). The British press is collectively known as "Fleet Street", although this is an artifact of an era when many newspapers were at that particular location in London; most have since gone elsewhere.
They are typically classified by format:
- Broadsheets are the traditionally formatted newspapers, generally thought to be the most intelligent and respectable publications. The name has become somewhat of an artifact, as most of them switched to smaller formats in the mid-noughties, the term "quality paper" is used more often for the up-market newspapers these days.
- Mid-market tabloids might do some serious reporting, but they're more concerned with health, gossip, and crime, although not to the extent of...
- Red-tops, tabloids aimed towards the lower-middle and working classes, generally focusing on sports and sensationalism. So named because most newspaper companies that produce newspapers in this format feature bright red logos on the front cover to catch the attention of potential buyers.
As with nearly everything in Britain, there's a class distinction in who reads which papers, with the higher classes reading the more respected publications.
Note that in spite of dealing with a rather different political system from the United States, the comment sections of all these newspapers' websites are populated by pretty much the same sort of Online Personas as American comment sections. So if you were expecting the British stereotype of restraint and civility, prepare to be disappointed.
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph is best known for its trenchant support of the Conservative Party, giving it the derisive nickname "The Daily Torygraph". However, it's still known as one of Britain's two newspapers of record by reputation, and its reporting is considered to be quite good regardless of its strong political bent.
It has historically been a heavy journalistic hitter; in 1908, it published an interview in which Kaiser Wilhelm ran his mouth off a bit, which had a hand in bringing down the Chancellor of the German Empire, and it was also the first paper to report from Poland on the outbreak of World War II. These days, though, it seems to be defined by its conservative stance and its unintentionally hilarious rivalry with the left-leaning Guardian. Its other nickname, the "Daily Hurleygraph", derives from its odd fascination with Elizabeth Hurley (and "fruity girls" in general). Not that they don't make scoops anymore; the paper broke the 2009 MP expenses scandal and a 2016 investigation on tactics used by England footy manager Sam Allardyce, who was then dismissed.
Its strangest episode might be an accidental security breach in 1944, when the solutions to its crossword puzzle started featuring military codewords, including for the Normandy landings. It turned out that the crossword editor, who was also headmaster of a boys' school, had been picking up the words from his students, who had in turn been picking them up from the military base next door.
The Times and the Sunday Times
The Times is the UK's other newspaper of record, and is one of the oldest newspapers in the country, having been founded in 1785note . It's associated with good reporting, level-headedness, originating the ubiquitous Times New Roman typeface, cryptic crosswords, and an almost aristocratic courtesy. Its considerable age has made it an institution, as it's covered the fall of the Bastille, the Battle of Trafalgar, and The Napoleonic Wars; aside from a blip in 1978-79note , it's covered everything of note since then.
The Sunday Times is a sister paper, and although they are essentially grouped together and share common ownership, they were founded independently, only coming under common ownership in 1966. In the late 1950s, the Sunday Times became the first British newspaper to have more than one section, and in 1962 it became the first Sunday paper to introduce a colour magazine. It's a thick broadsheet with several supplements, and has remained so even after the daily edition switched in 2004 to tabloid format (or "compact", as they prefer to call it). It's most famous for its annual "Sunday Times Rich List", a league table of the UK's richest people.
Since 1981, Times and the Sunday Times have been owned by Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, famous for imposing a conservative editorial line on news outlets he owns, some of which you'll see elsewhere on this page. However, the Times' age and reputation mean that it is editorially independent and doesn't have to toe the Murdoch line, although its natural bent is neutral-to-conservative.
Its most famous reporting is simultaneously one of its biggest scoops and its biggest goofs; it exposed Israel's Open Secret of a nuclear program. Unfortuantely, the Times failed to take good care of their whistle-blower, Israeli scientist Mordechai Vanunu; Mossad caught him in a Honey Trap, and he was imprisoned in Israel for 18 years. It's the subject of intense debate how much of this was Vanunu's fault and how much was the Times', but the paper considers it an Old Shame and has become particularly critical of Israel since then (which just gets it into more trouble).
The Guardian and The Observer
The Guardian is the UK's biggest left-leaning paper. It's often called the "Grauniad", a result of its former reputation for frequent typos, and its readers are often called "Guardianistas" (particularly as a derogatory comment on their political leanings, analogous to the American "New York Times liberal"). It started life as the Manchester Guardian in 1821, only moving to London in 1964, five years after taking "Manchester" out of the title; it's now got a reputation of being particularly London-centric. It feels very centrist sometimes in spite of its left-leaning reputation; it doesn't support Labour or the Whigs (currently the Liberal Democrats) so much as it opposes the Tories, and it has been critical of far-left governments in Latin America and Eastern Europe, basically following the British government stance there. This leads to the accusation that they actually just tend to adopt any position that will best enable them to get away with a tone of slightly condescending self-righteousness. The paper is also known for its anti-monarchist stance; its web portal even offers a "republican edition" when the Royals are the topic of the day.
Politics aside, the paper is unique in that its parent company, the Guardian Media Group, is owned by a trust which exists to ensure its editorial independence, and its actual reporting, op-eds is aside, is considered to be very good. That said, it seems to be willing to pick fights with practically every other major newspaper, from the traditionally conservative Daily Telegraph to more hardcore left-wing Daily Mirror. It's also infamous for supporting candidates who lose in embarrassing fashion, in the UK and outside it; it once got into hot water for suggesting that its readers ring up random Americans to tell them not to vote for George W. Bush in 2004. Elsewhere in the paper, it has a very highly regarded crossword, which enthusiasts say might be even better than that of the Times.
It has the lowest circulation of the "big three" newspapers, behind the Times and the Telegraph, which is likely because it's the only one of the three whose website is not behind a paywall. The paper calls this a commitment to the "free democracy of ideas", while cynics call it giving away all your content for free. That said, its online presence is formidable, third in traffic among British news sites behind only the Daily Mail and the internationally-venerated BBC News.
Its proudest journalistic moment is its hand in the collapse of the News of the World (a tabloid described below); they had been plugging away at the scandal for years, and it was they who made the breakthrough by discovering that the News of the World had hacked a murdered teenager's phone to give her family hope that she might still be alive. If they hadn't been investigating so tirelessly, chances are what the News of the World had been doing would never have come to light. Even the Telegraph gave them props.
The Observer has been the Guardian's Sunday-only sister paper since 1993; it's the oldest Sunday newspaper in the world, being first published in 1791, and it gives particular focus to arts and culture. Between it, Guardian Weekend, The Observer Magazine, and the Observer Food Monthly, they give the impression of being Obsessed with Food, albeit in a very London-centric, Islington-dinner-party sort of way (including blatant Product Placement for fairly expensive British supermarkets).
Both The Guardian and The Observer were the only UK newspapers printed in the Berliner format, having switched from broadsheet in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Both switched to tabloid in January 2018.
The Independent and the i
Founded in 1986, the Independent is considerably younger than the other broadsheets and was set up to be genuinely independent compared to the other papers. It didn't exactly work out; it stopped print publication entirely in March 2016, although it's still available online.
In earlier years, Private Eye called it "The Indyscribablyboring", reflecting how much it tried to be balanced on partisan issues. But since then, it's become outspoken too; it just took a third option and went more or less with the Lib Dems. It's also particularly outspoken on environmental issues, obsessing over them in much the same way the right-wing tabloids cover immigration. Since the switch to an online edition, it has faced accusations of peddling clickbait. It was the first of the "quality" papers to abandon the broadsheet format, becoming a tabloid in 2003.
The real changes began in 2010, when the paper was bought for a single pound by Russian oligarch (and former KGB employee) Alexander Lebedev. It then introduced a "lite" middle-market spin-off called the i, which turned out to be the company's only publication to survive 2016 in print; it was sold to Johnston Press.
Among its contributing writers is Nigel Farage, former head of UKIP, a right-wing party based largely on hardline immigration policy and leaving the European Union altogether. The editors defended him against criticism largely by citing its independent stance. However, the paper has since picked up a number of UKIP sympathisers, including among the editorial ranks.
In 2019, the i was bought out by the Daily Mail group. Despite the editor's assurances that it wouldn't abandon its previous editorial line in favour of its new owners' preferences, the Daily Mail's reputation is so dire that no one believed him, and readers started abandoning the paper. Many readers claimed its editorial line did change (or was always in line with the Mail's), because the paper's refusal to support the Labour Party (perhaps in an effort to prove its centrism) amounted to support for the right wing in an increasingly polarised British political scene.
The Financial Times
The Financial Times is a business and economics broadsheet. Large chunks of it are mostly incomprehensible to anyone not working in management, and it's such a by-word for "important business stuff" that it sells more copies outside of Britain than within it - however, the parts of it that aren't managerial/business jargon are considered to be some of the best reporting around; it most recently played a part in the bankruptcy drama surrounding a German financial company. It's also known as "the Pink 'Un" because it's printed on pink paper; this started in 1893 as a cost-saving measure, but it now gives the paper an air of distinctiveness (and also makes it harder to photocopy). Even the online version has a pink background.
The Catholic Herald
The Catholic Herald is a London-based weekly broadsheet serving both the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Although its circulation is fairly small and generally limited to Catholic parishes, it was a reasonably influential paper, becoming a bastion of social conservatism in the British press. Now, practically no one's actually heard of it.
Its editorial line is always that of the Catholic Church. Although there is no direct or official oversight from the Vatican, the paper never contradicts official Catholic doctrine. Outside of that, its editorial stance is best described as "to the right of the Daily Mail". As such, faced with an increasingly secular and socially liberal Britain, it's a relentlessly pessimistic paper.
Politically, it's all over the place; it likes the Conservatives' general right-wing stance, but it also supports Labour's social programs (in keeping with Catholic social teaching). When Conservative PM David Cameron came out in support of gay marriage, its political stance basically became "fuck you all". It publishes a lot of Christian apologism (although relatively little of it is anti-atheist Hitler Ate Sugar-type screeds), and it also has little patience for "cafeteria Catholics". However, it has a much higher standard of reporting than the mid-market tabloids, and it has a series of excellent and informative non-news articles on all sorts of Catholic subjects, from ecumenism to Vatican II to the Saints.
It has a long-running rivalry with the more liberal-leaning Catholic magazine The Tablet, in much the same vein as the Telegraph-Guardian rivalry — in fact, many Catholic Telegraph writers are Traditionalists who like the Catholic Herald, whereas many Catholic Guardian writers are pro-Tablet, which should tell you all you need to know. Catholic Herald readers refer to the Tablet as "the Bitter Pill".
The Yorkshire Post
Based in Leeds, the Yorkshire Post, despite its name and largely regional circulation, considers itself a national newspaper. As such, it tends to report on national and international news stories rather than following the Local Angle, although it's a very precarious balance. It's one of the country's oldest newspapers, being founded in the 1750s as the Leeds Intelligencer. Its biggest scoop was in the 1930s, when it became the first British paper to break the story of the abdication crisis surrounding King Edward VIII.
The Daily Mail
Says the enemy's among us, taking our women and taking our jobs. The Daily Mail, founded in 1896, is ultra-right-wing, reactionary, eurosceptic, xenophobic, isolationist, often hysterical, and notoriously obsessed with immigration, house prices, same-sex marriage, and claimants of state benefits.
It infamously supported fascism in a big way◊ in the 1930s, openly advocating an alliance with Nazi Germany against the Dirty Communists, and dismissing reports of mistreatment of German Jews as exaggerations◊. While it recanted its support for Mosley and Hitler a few years later (predicting that the latter's lebensraum would trigger World War II), the Mail called Jews seeking refuge in Britain nothing more than economic migrants taking advantage of Britain's lax generosity. It led to the common nickname "the Daily Heil", and it's not too different from its anti-immigrant stance today - some things, it seems, never change.
These days, it presents itself as the voice of the "silent (moral) majority" or of "the ordinary man on the street", who funnily enough happens to hold the exact same opinions as the Mail. Although it almost always supports the Conservatives, its tone often verges further right into UKIP and BNP territory. It also has an Irish edition that is similarly populist in its editorial policy, but doesn't necessarily have to align with the British version, leading to some humorous contradictions.
It has a big website, with more views than even the Guardian's. It likes to dump its most sensationalist articles there, where they would be read by foreigners who take them seriously because it's a British paper (something on which Cracked has called them out). It's been known even to lift content from social media websites like Reddit and YouTube as filler. The website's "FeMail" section is ostensibly devoted to women's issues, but it's essentially a vehicle for the Mail to publish smut — it's full of codewords that sexualise women while still looking nominally progressive, and it even posts naughty pictures, ostensibly for people to be outraged at. Despite this, the Mail is the only paper in the UK with more female than male readers.
Because of said website, the Mail also has a good-sized American readership, particularly because of its copious gossip and "in other news" stories (and its manner of bullet-pointing every paragraph of a story to earn Google SEO points). Its American arm was even able to launch a daily syndicated TV show in 2017, hosted by former Bachelor Jesse Palmer — which, due to the UK's impartiality and celebrity privacy laws, cannot legally be shown in its home market.
It has a number of pet obsessions. Cancer might be its biggest; everything has been touted on its front page either to cause cancer or to cure it (and some do both on different days). This led to the nickname "The Daily Hypochondriac" and comedian Russell Howard giving us the the "Daily Mail Cancer Song" (set to the usual tune). It's also got an unhealthy obsession with homosexuality, largely the work of Heteronormative Crusader columnist Richard Littlejohn, who has it bad enough for the Guardian to publish an annual "Littlejohn Audit" keeping track of how many times he mentions gays.
Wikipedia made a splash by making the Mail its first deprecated source, meaning it cannot be used for citations unless the article is about the paper itself, and there's an auto-sweeper that will give you a warning if you try to link to it. There are barely 30 such sources, and although the Sun and News of the World are also on that list, so are infamous "fake news" websites like Infowars, which should tell you the extent of the Mail's poor reputation. Wikipedia's decision on the Mail became a landmark for the site, and it also spurred other venues to do similar things (such as Virgin Trains briefly pulling it from its shops). The Mail responded by posting an article smearing a Wikipedia admin, to barely any effect.
So with the paper's dire reputation, how is it still winning journalistic awards? What is it doing right? It does have interesting historical articles; for this, we can thank respected historian and former war correspondent Sir Max Hastings. It has very good photography, resulting in nice nature and landscape photographs and eye-catching news photography (although it mostly puts this skill to paparazzi photos). Its "coffee break" section isn't bad. Its sports section is decent enough. And... it sells well? It sells well.
Before 1971, when it absorbed the tabloid Daily Sketch (founded 1909), it was a right-wing broadsheet, and was taken more seriously. Most of the populist elements of today's Daily Mail come from the Sketch.
The Mail on Sunday
The Mail on Sunday is the Sunday sister paper to the Daily Mail, founded in 1982. While still staunchly conservative, it's also far less alarmist than the Mail, far more credible, and far less reactionary (in 1983 even endorsing the Social Democrats, a Labour Party splinter group that's a predecessor to the modern Liberal Democrats or to later iterations of Labour under Blair and Starmer). This makes it a paper of choice for conservatives who don't like hysteria. However, its journalists and columnists include staunchly Anglican conservative (and enemy of television) Peter Hitchens, brother of the famous atheist/antitheist Christopher Hitchens, who regularly bashes the Conservative Party for not being right-wing enough.
The Daily Express
The Daily Express, founded in 1900, is known for two things; being previously owned by a former porn baron (hence the nickname "the Daily Sexpress") and its obsession with Princess Diana and her death (hence the nickname "the Di-ly Express" or the Daily Di).
It started as a pioneer of sorts, being the first British newspaper to have a crossword, and it was also the first to report on gossip and sports to any significant degree. It was also notable for having Leon Trotsky write dispatches during his exile from the Soviet Union. But it was also not exactly progressive and had a rather "schizophrenic" attitude to Jews during the 1930s (Neo-Nazis still spout out an Express headline of the era, "JUDEA DECLARES WAR ON GERMANY", as a bizarre "proof" that they weren't victims at allnote ). And since then, it's drifted so far to the right that it's best described as "the Daily Mail off its medication", especially for its demonisation of immigrants to the point of straight-up racism. Its scare-mongering articles about immigration were so racist that they prompted a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, the newspapers' self-regulatory body — from its own journalists.
After Princess Diana and immigrants, the Express has a number of other pet obsessions, like extreme weather conditions, house prices going up or down, anything to do with old people (pensions, medical conditions, etc.), and a mix between Missing White Woman Syndrome and Worst News Judgment Ever in the case of the 2007 disappearance of the three-year-old Madeleine McCann in Portugal. These topics crop up on the front page so often you can play bingo with them.
Its owner between 2000 and 2018, Richard Desmond, was a porn baron indeed (although he sues people who call him that), and the paper advertised his former channels' programmes (he also owned the mainstream Channel 5 between 2010 and 2016, when he sold it to Viacom). Ironically, the paper itself has a very reactionary stance that would oppose pornography in general terms. This creates something of a contradiction. Desmond prefers to avoid bringing up his porn baron status these days - which, naturally, means that the Guardian brings it up at every conceivable opportunity. His wife (at least according to Private Eye) appeared to believe in weird conspiracy theories like UFOs or the dangers of the Large Hadron Collider, which have appeared as stories on the paper's website. Desmond's friendship with the boyfriend of the late Princess might be linked to the paper's obsessive coverage of their deaths - though it continued after his departure. The paper is now owned by Reach, which publishes the Daily Mirror.
Its most tasteless moment was an article attacking the now-adult survivors of the Dunblane massacre, Britain's deadliest school shooting, because they put pictures of themselves drinking on their Facebook pages, which the journalist in question saw only by pretending to be a teenager and befriending them on the site.
It's also rather provincial in its coverage, reporting on severe British weather phenomena at the expense of other more newsworthy stories, and hating the European Union with a passion (Diana died over there!).
It's also the longtime home of Rupert Bear, with most fans agreeing the strip is better than the rest of the newspaper.
The Sunday Express (founded in 1918) is rather more nuanced in tone, being similar to the Daily Mail.
The Evening Standard
The Evening Standard is, as the name implies, London's evening paper (and the only remaining one since 1987). It's best known for the distinctive way its sellers used to shout out its title in a single syllable, before it became a freesheet in 2009, although for all intents and purposes it's still considered to be a mid-market papernote .
It has something of a reputation for provincialism, particularly regarding its coverage of the The London Underground; big news stories will be pushed off the front page in favor of the latest on the ongoing Tube strike (a fictional example: "THREATEN TUBE STRIKE — Aliens Attack Earth"). It's also obsessed with the evils of squatting.
Politically, it's fairly right-wing; it played a key role in the election of Boris Johnson as mayor of London (hence its nickname "the Evening Boris"). This is largely because the paper particularly hated then-incumbent Ken Livingstone; he once likened one of their reporters (who was Jewish) to a concentration camp guard, and the whole thing exploded into a big scandal. It also supported Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith in the 2016 mayoral election, to the point of reproducing his press releases more or less verbatim; here, they were less successful, as Goldsmith lost to Labour's Sadiq Khan.
It's owned by Evgeny Lebedev, who purchased a majority of (Daily Mail parent) Associated Newspapers' stake for a single pound; this only served to make it even more right-wing than before. It also gives Lebedev's TV station London Live priority in its TV listings (ahead of even The BBC), in spite of it having, as Private Eye put it, slightly less viewers than the Yeti.
Its most recent editor is former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, an appointment that caused much surprise, not least because Osborne was still an MP at the time of his appointment. Although a snap general election gave Osborne the opportunity to stand down, his editorship still raises eyebrows because of its needling of Theresa May (who sacked Osborne as Chancellor upon becoming PM) and, in an ironic twist, her successor Boris Johnson.
The New Day (February 29, 2016 - May 6, 2016)
Trinity Mirror's answer to the Mail, the Express, and the i, the New Day was launched at a time when the newspaper industry was in dire straits and was aimed at people who don't usually buy newspapers (seriously). Unlike your usual metropolitan paper, it had no editorial page, the information was mostly news briefs, and the sports section was located in the middle pages rather than at the back cover, which was occupied by a weather map. Experts thought it wouldn't last a year. It didn't last three months.
Just for completeness: Today was a newspaper which ran for less than a decade (1986-95). It started off as somewhat left-wing — it printed the original run of Sue Townsend's Secret Diary of Margaret Hilda Roberts Age 13¾ and had future New Labour spin-doctor Alistair Campbell as political editor. After about a year of that, it was sold to Murdoch and got "Rommel" Montgomery as editor (famous for his work with the Mirror), and it became extremely Thatcherite indeed, to the point it was nicknamed Toady. What it's mostly remembered for, though, is being the UK's first full-colour newspaper, and usually looking terrible in the process. A few TV history nerds might also recall it as the paper that employed Mattie Storin in the original House of Cards.
First News is a newspaper for young people of school age. It manages to take a mature and unbiased look at world issues while still being kid-friendly. It has everything a newspaper should have, but adapted for children.
The Sun is one of the most infamous papers in Britain. There is a lot to say about it, most of it not very kind. But here's a description of the average Sun reader by its own former editor, the notorious Kelvin MacKenzie:
It's got a very right-wing bent, but it ironically started as the Daily Herald (originally, for one month, The World), a genuinely pro-Labour broadsheet aimed at "political radicals" and owned by trade unions. After a decline during the post-war period, it was bought by International Publishing Corporation (owners of the left-wing Daily Mirror) and managed to maintain its profile. But then came a market study suggesting an intense demographic shift, and in 1964, it transformed into the Sun, aiming for not just political but also "social radicals" in the middle class. This didn't exactly work out, and in 1969 it was purchased by Rupert Murdoch, who turned it into the modern-day tabloid seen today and still maintains a firm grip on it.
It was famous for many years for the Page Three Stunna, a collection of topless women on the third page; although it's not the only tabloid to have done so, it's easily the most famous. It's thus essentially using topless women to sell propaganda. It quietly stopped in 2015, largely because the competition for ogling women was overwhelming.
It was also the home of cartoon strips including George And Lynne, which also regularly featured topless women in its cartoons. This was dropped in 2010 and now the paper does not run any comic strips. It remains the home of Dear Deidre, the UKs best known Agony Aunt.
Its staunch conservatism is expressed in a highly populist manner. It presents itself as standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the common man (albeit often unconvincingly). It openly endorsed Brexit despite being boycotted by readers and advertisers (although its impact on the paper is debatable). But that doesn't mean it's totally aligned with the Conservative Party; in fact, it backed Labour in 1997, 2001, and 2005 (even as it spent much of this period attacking the party in its editorials), giving it the impression of being afraid of backing a loser. (Some believed that Murdoch was also trying to play nice at the time to get British media ownership regulations relaxed). This may also be why the Sun claimed credit for the Tories' surprise victory in the 1992 general election (with the headline "IT'S THE SUN WOT WON IT"). Notably, the Tories didn't exactly deny it.
In fact, the paper is known for its creative and inflammatory headlines, including:
- "GOTCHA", referring to the sinking of the General Belgrano during The Falklands War. (Private Eye lampooned it with a headline of its own: "KILL AN ARGIE, WIN A METRO", which MacKenzie actually found quite amusing). Just before this, on the dispatch of the taskforce to the Falklands, it unironically ran the headline "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK".
- "ARE WE BEING RUN BY A GAY MAFIA?", which sparked a huge backlash against their homophobia. (As The News Quiz snarked, "Do they put a My Little Pony's head in your bed?")
- "STRAIGHT SEX CANNOT GIVE YOU AIDS", considered by one journalism professor as the worst newspaper article in British history, as not only is the headline blatantly untrue, but it can also actively endanger readers' lives.
What followed was such an intense backlash that the Sun, at the time the best-selling paper in Liverpool, to this day cannot be obtained in the city. No one will carry it, no one will buy it, no one can even give it awaynote . Not Liverpool supporters, not people who don't care about football, not fans of Liverpool's bitter rivals Everton FCnote , nobody.
The Hillsborough reporting is a huge part of the Sun's character because it shows just how loathsome its editor Kelvin MacKenzie was. The story was his brainchild; other journalists in the Sun could see the response coming, but MacKenzie was such a newsroom tyrant that no one could talk him down. Not even Rupert Murdoch could fully leash him, as MacKenzie retracted his apology for the reporting and blamed Murdoch for pressuring him into making it. Even decades later, when the final report on the disaster was issued in 2016 and finally, definitively exposed the Sun's reporting as a great big lie, MacKenzie wouldn't back down (and forbade any coverage on the inquiry other than a brief wire report). Liverpool FC responded by formally banning all Sun journalists from club facilities forever (Everon did the same shortly thereafter, in response to the 2017 'gorilla' article, also by MacKenzie).
They even doubled down in 2019 when the FA approached them about Anfield (Liverpool's 54,000 capacity stadium) hosting warm-up games for Euro 2020 (before the pandemic caused its postponement), something that could only be done on the condition that the Sun was allowed journalists on site. The response was broadly summarised as "go fuck yourself" and a restatement of the ban. Normally, this would be a total affront to press freedom and availability in sports, but it went totally unquestioned by the rest of the world - and was even praised in a number of quarters. That's how bad it was. Recently, Arsenal FC has become another of the paper's enemies after the tabloid published a piece implying that a big chunk of its followers were Muslim terrorists after the suspect of a bombing attempt was spotted wearing an Arsenal jersey. Fans called for a ban on the Sun, but it didn't seem to go anywhere, yet the paper is still held in contempt by many Gooners.
Northerners in general and Scots have no love lost for the paper or MacKenzie either, as the paper characterised people living north of East Anglia as "inbred Commie bumpkins" beginning with the Yorkshire miners' strike of 1984, while his post-editorship columns emphasising that about the Scottish (ironically, his grandfather was a Scotchman)note .
That's a lot to digest for a by-word for nasty journalism, but all you need to know is condensed quite nicely in this Billy Bragg song, "Never Buy the Sun".
The Daily Mirror
The Daily Mirror is a generally left-wing tabloid, though as a populist paper it can veer to the right on issues like crime. Ironically, it was founded as a conservative stable-mate of the Daily Mail (to the extent of supporting Oswald Mosley); it turned to its current ideology in the late 1930s under the editorship of Guy Bartholomew. It was a genuinely good investigative newspaper which ran many acclaimed campaigns and perspectives; the great John Pilger was one of its leading lights. And then crooked businessman and financier Robert Maxwell got hold of it in 1984, and the old left-wing spirit was emasculated.
After Maxwell's mysterious death in 1991, the paper passed into the hands of decidedly right-wing editor and publisher David "Rommel" Montgomery, who was already famous for helming the defunct (and slavishly pro-Thatcher) newspaper Today (A bitter joke among old Mirror hands goes, "I thought a leader called Monty was supposed to be on our side"). Post-Montgomery, the paper has made vague efforts towards claiming back its left-wing credentials, including rehiring Pilger to report on the Iraq War and being the only national paper that supported the Labour Party at the tail-end of Gordon Brown's premiership.
Its most famous former editor, though, is Piers Morgan, who ran the paper between 1995 and 2004, shifting the paper towards classical liberalism. He was sacked for faking pictures of abuse by British soldiers in Iraq. The vicious coverage led to people spitting on soldiers in the street before the pictures were exposed as false; the military has lost all respect for the Mirror, but they generally don't think of it as worth attacking.note Morgan, meanwhile, became a target of persistent ridicule (Private Eye always calls him some variant of "Piers Moron") and was banished to America to be an anchor on CNN (he has since been booted back to England to work for the Mail). Post-2004, the paper began lurching to the left, but still not to the extent of the "classic" Mirror.
The Mirror has a long and odd history of enmity with Private Eye, in spite of the latter not taking anybody in the media particularly seriously. The Mirror would devote vast resources to the "battle", suing the magazine and its editor Ian Hislop for £225,000 (about half a million 2013 pounds); Hislop famously snarked about giving "a fat cheque to a fat Czech" (Maxwell having been born in Czechoslovakia). The Mirror even called Hislop's vicar asking for "dirt"; the most they could dig up were invented stories about Hislop's alleged "chronic piles" and "weird obsession with tangerines".
It was interestingly founded in 1903 as a "paper for women", and it's trying to rediscover that niche, to the point that generally about half of its content it aimed specifically at women, with the remainder (barring the sports pages) being largely gender-neutral. The exception is Saturday and Monday, which is largely dedicated to football anyway.
It has a very loyal following Oop North, with a separate Northern edition since 1955. It's pretty much the only national paper you can quietly read in Manchester or Liverpool. After a miners' strike and a football tragedy, the very idea of selling (let alone reading) a Tory paper can lead to some troubles.
Its Sunday edition descends from the Sunday Pictorial (or the "Pic"), which existed between 1915 and 1964.
The Daily Star
The Daily Star (founded in 1978), like the Daily Express, is a Desmond title. It's got more tits and less news than the Sun, and it's essentially a daily gossip magazine. It admittedly makes things up and has been sued for it before. If the Express is "the Mail off its meds", for most of its history the Star was "the Express's special little brother off its meds" — it was so racist and homophobic that it's cozied up to the far-right, Muslim-baiting English Defence League on several occasions. One reporter quit after being instructed to "wrap himself around" a group of women in burqas wearing nothing but his underwear. Interestingly, ever since the Express Group was acquired by Reach plc, the Star took a more left-wing bent, essentially becoming a more populist version of sister red-top, the Daily Mirror.
It's infamous for its misleading headlines:
- "JORDAN IN NEW CANCER SCARE! Shock Diagnosis for Kate and Her Family!" was only about the fact that Katie Price's boyfriend uses fake tan, which might cause cancer.
- "TERROR AS PLANE HITS ASH CLOUDS" was entirely fictional and illustrated with an image from a documentary.note
- "ROYAL BABY ON WAY" didn't have anything to do with William and Kate's actual children; it came right after they were married and revealed oh-so-startlingly that now that they were married, they might choose to conceive a child.
- "BORING OLD GITS TO WED", referring to Prince Charles' engagement to Camilla Parker-Bowles. Funny if you don't care about gossip at all.
- "PERV SPOOF BOSSES AXE WRESTLING◊", right next to a headline ogling the breasts of singer Charlotte Church, who was 15 at the time. It proved Chris Morris completely right in the aftermath of a certain special episode of Brass Eye.
The Daily Sport
The Daily Sport is pure Male Gaze. It superficially resembles the Sun, Mirror, and Star, but it's basically a British equivalent of the U.S. National Enquirer, in that it contains almost nothing that is normally thought of as news. It's so downtrodden as a paper that Googling its title gets you the Star's website instead. And it no longer really exists — after a single brush with bankruptcy, the daily edition of this organ of the press (which organ is best left to the imagination) has ceased publication, leaving only the Sunday Sport and a midweek version remain in circulation.
Its typical fare (squeezed in, with extreme difficulty, around the porn) includes stories of a double-decker bus encased in an Antarctic ice sheet, a World War II bomber found on the Moon, a kebab house with an unconventional ingredient, and a half-horse, half-human baby. When an astronomer called them to say that he had a telescope pointed at the moon which couldn't pick up a bomber, the headline the next day was "World War II Bomber on Moon Vanishes!"
The News of the World
The News of the World was another Murdoch paper, formerly published weekly on Sunday. Founded in 1843, it was usually thought of as the "Sunday Sun", and in terms of content they were almost exactly the same. It was otherwise known as "News of the Screws" or "Screws of the World". It was traditionally the newspaper of choice for wrapping fish and chips (before the practice was stopped as a health hazard).
It was forced to shut down in 2011 when the Guardian discovered that it had hacked the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and deleted messages from her voicemail, giving her family hope that she might still be alive. The fallout from this led to the resignation of several high-ranking officials in the government and the London Metropolitan Police. It also scuttled Rupert Murdoch's bid to acquire the parts of the BSkyB network he didn't already own and led to a long inquiry and discussion over ethics in tabloid journalism.
The People is a clone of the News of the World, and now a Sunday-only sister to the Sunday Mirror. No one reads it — or rather, no one admits to reading it, since there actually is a Sunday Mirror which is basically the same but with better brand recognition and less pornographic connotations. Somehow, though, the People is still going after 130 years. It's notorious for Bait-and-Switch front pages involving celebrities' "lady bits", usually purporting to show a photograph of national celebrities' "downstairs", and an article that winds up having only a tangential relationship to anything.
The Communists are a notoriously fractious bunch, and as such they have a number of their own newspapers which may or may not still exist:
- The Morning Star is nominally affiliated with the British Communist Party (well, whichever one still exists); however, it aims for a broader audience than the radical left. It was formerly known as The Daily Worker and jumped ship from a previous Communist Party right as it collapsed. It's one of the few daily Communist papers, and it's got the highest circulation among them — which isn't saying much.
- The News Line, the daily paper of the far-Trotskyist Workers' Revolutionary Party, is a unique far-left daily. It's largely considered unreadable because of its impenetrable jargon. Its sports pages are quite good, though; its horse racing coverage is even better than that of most mainstream papers.
- Most far-left papers are weekly rather than daily, and they're usually only sold in the street by supporters of the groups that print them. Examples include the Socialist Worker (bitter enemies of News Line), Militant, and the Worker's Hammer.
- Class War is a weekly Anarchist paper with a miniscule circulation. Its only claim to fame is a single headline which quintupled its sales, regarding the birth of Prince William: "ANOTHER FUCKING ROYAL PARASITE IS BORN!"
Most national newspapers also put out a Scottish edition with a few vague attempts at localisation. This is influenced by the fact that political "left and right" are a bit different in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, particularly England; a centrist in London terms would be seen as rather right-wing in Scotland. This means that while the Sun is solidly Tory in the rest of the UK, its Scottish edition maintains an uncomfortable neutrality, even going as far as backing the SNP rather than the Tories in the 2015 election — local opinion (and its effect on sales) winning out over the influence of Rupert Murdoch.
That said, there are also a few specifically Scottish titles:
- The Herald, formerly The Glasgow Herald, is a centre-left broadsheet. It historically supported Labour, although it was anti-war in Iraq. Its Sunday edition is called The Sunday Herald, and it's strongly in favour of Scottish independence (by contrast, The Herald itself is against it).
- The Scotsman, published in Edinburgh, is a slightly right-leaning paper, by which we mean that they don't really distinguish between Lib Dems and New Labour in general terms. It's a broadsheet in terms of content, but published at tabloid size. The Sunday edition is called Scotland on Sunday. It came out against Scottish independence.
- The Daily Record is a Scottish tabloid, published in Glasgow. It's also known as "the Daily Weegie", "The Daily Rangers", and "The Daily Retard". It supports Labour and takes a leftist stance on economic issues, but it tends to be conservative on social issues (it vocally supported a campaign to retain the anti-gay Section 28 legislation), and it's fiercely anti-nationalist. It's the second best-selling paper in Scotland (beaten by only the Sun). It was previously owned by the Mirror Group, when it was basically just the Scottish edition of the Daily Mirror, but it is now independently owned. A cut-down version is sold in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, with a small amount of region-specific exclusive content in each edition. The Sunday edition is The Sunday Mail, which is the best-selling Sunday paper in Scotland and has an even more leftist bent, in 2019 being the first British newspaper to officially support the Green Party.
- The Press & Journal is published in Aberdeen and only available in the North-East of Scotland. It's known in its area as the "P&J". It's incredibly parochial; the rumour goes that the sinking of the Titanic was reported as "North-East Man Lost at Sea". It's independently owned and published; it's right-leaning, but it does not openly support the Conservative Party. Infamously supported Donald Trump's controversial Aberdeen golf course, to the point of calling councillors who voted against it "traitors"; Private Eye has observed the interesting coincidence that the editor's wife was Trump's vice president in charge of the development.
- The Sunday Post is Tartan, Heather, and Shortbread in Sunday newspaper form. It's published in Dundee and home to iconic Scottish comic strips The Broons and Oor Wullie; no surprise then that it's published by D.C. Thomson, better known for comics such as The Beano and The Dandy. It has no daily edition, because no one could take that level of "Bonnie Scotland" sentiment on a daily basis.
- The National is a more recent newspaper, established in late 2014 as a pro-independence newspaper. It began as a sister paper to the Herald and Sunday Herald, and was quite clearly modelled after the latter in terms of both presentation and editorial stance. Since taking on a life of its own, it has adopted a seemingly paradoxical combination of left-wing idealism and the kind of "us and them" nationalism espoused by the more right-wing publications. In line with most things in post-referendum Scotland, the response has been ... mixed, if Scottish social media is anything to go by. Its drawn some controversy over the fact that it presents itself as a pro-independence perspective rather than an unbiased source of news, which has led Private Eye to dismiss it as an "SNP fanzine". Other notable quirks include its mocking front pages (often involving Photoshop of varying quality, eventually dropped in favour of a more mainstream tabloid style), its columnists' tendency to dabble in Meaningless Meaningful Words, a curious preoccupation with the mysterious death of Willie MacRae, and its pursuit of what can only be described as a minor vendetta against television presenter and archaeologist Neil Olivernote . It's nicknamed "The Nat Onal" for its Lucky Charms Title.
Most English papers sell specific Irish editions in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. These range from near-identical to the English versions (the Irish Sun) to substantially different (the Irish Daily Star, which is much less interested in celebrities and cares a lot more about Irish politics). If you want a detailed look at Irish newspapers, most of which are based in the Republic but are available in the North, see Irish Newspapers. However, some papers you'll find mainly in Northern Ireland:
- The Belfast Telegraph is a conservative and moderate Unionist daily broadsheet published in Belfast. It's currently the best-selling Northern Ireland-based newspaper.
- The Irish News is published in Belfast and available across Ireland, though it is only a major player in the North. It's a moderate Nationalist compact.
- The News Letter, an ancient Belfast-based tabloid, has been published since 1737, making it the longest surviving English-language daily in the world. It's staunchly Unionist in politics, though apparently it was once Republican in its distant past.
- The Impartial Reporter, based mainly around Fermanagh and Enniskillen, tries its hardest to stay out of politics, and a brief look at Northern Irish politics will tell you why and give you the reason for the name. In spite of this, it's viewed in some circles as the local Protestant/Unionist newspaper; a second newspaper in the area, The Fermanagh Herald, is more geared towards Catholic/Nationalist readers. This duopoly in local press according to where you stand on The Irish Question is mirrored in other cities and towns in Northern Ireland. Its second-largest city has weekly papers The Derry Journal and The Londonderry Sentinel — have a guess which community each paper targets.
Freesheets are tabloid-sized newspapers available for free at railway stations and from street vendors — or from the seats of trains, which is where they usually end up. Letters to the Metro have on occasion encouraged people to do this and complained about train staff removing the papers. On the Manchester trams, there are notices encouraging people to leave the Metro on the seat. Conversely, on Manchester area trains and The London Underground there are posters warning that doing so is littering.
- Metro is the biggest such paper and has multiple local editions. It has no comment section and expresses no real political views — aside from a pro-EU stance, which is ironic considering it's part of the Daily Mail conglomerate. Amusingly, it once confused a Saudi Royal with an international terrorist. Most of its content is an obsession with The X Factor, reality TV, and pop music. For many years people read it only because it printed Nemi and a weekly column by comedian Richard Herring, but Metro dropped all of that in 2015 as a cost-cutting measure and pretty much became a straight daily gossip magazine (with token pages for local news and sports) — which actually got them more readers, so much so that just two years later, it had even outstripped the Sun as the most-read paper in Londonnote .
- thelondonpaper, now defunct, was owned by Rupert Murdoch, but unlike his other papers, it was strongly socially liberal, with regular gay columnists, both male and female. It also frequently put a picture of a scantily-clad woman in its "pictures of the day" section on page 2.
- London Lite, Associated Newspapers-owned (and previously a lite version of the Standard), now defunct.
- City AM is a business paper, with a supplement on sports betting.
- For several days of the week the Manchester Evening News, nominally a local mainstream newspaper, is sold a freesheet; the "evening" designation is misleading, as the first edition is out before noon.
- The Economist is a weekly magazine (although it calls itself a "newspaper") owned by the Economist Group. It's mostly known in the U.S. as that magazine whose name you throw around if you want to sound smart, whether or not you actually read it. It covers foreign affairs and economic matters from a classical liberal perspective (as opposed to an American liberal one). In the British media, it is usually considered to be economically quite hard-right-wing but socially libertarian, placing it more or less halfway between the leftmost of the Thatcherite Tories and the rightmost of the Lib Dems (in the U.S. it tends to fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum). It got its dream government in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, which it frequently praised, before going sour on it as it became a Dysfunction Junction. In terms of international news, it's much more interested in maintaining the classic Bretton-Woods post-war order, including institutions like the UN, the WHO, NATO, and the EU, while acknowledging a need for flexibility given changing circumstances. More recently, its economic coverage has tended more leftwards, bringing it closer to the centre, advising more government involvement in light of problems like the Covid-19 pandemic. Basically, if its founding principle is classical liberalism, its current guiding one is pragmatism. The news magazine is mostly a loss-leader for the very expensive, specialised, and high-quality business information and economic analysis provided by other bits of the Economist Group.
- The Spectator is a right-wing weekly news magazine, which dates back to the nineteenth century (although it sometimes naughtily claims descent from a famous unconnected early magazine of the same title from the eighteenth century). It's now owned by the Telegraph Group. It's generally open to all strains of right-wing thought, from the libertarian to the neo-conservative to the old-school up-the-aristocracy, and editing the magazine gets you a lot of cred in the Conservative Party (e.g. Boris Johnson). It likes to criticize political correctness. It is perhaps the last holdout of the "old fogey" who hates modern music (especially this scruffy rock 'n' roll thing) and these awful films. It has weekly features on classical music, opera, theatre, and poetry, contrasted with minimal token coverage of everything else. That said, they also have more liberal contributors like Nick Cohen in the mix. It also has American and Australian editions.
- Standpoint is a monthly politics magazine which is much closer to U.S. Republicanism than any native British ideology, full of stories pointing out how Western civilisation is in danger from the Muslims and their multicultural socialist friends. Opponents contend that it sells sod-all and exists merely as an attempt to persuade Americans with those politics that they have a serious constituency in the UK. But like the Spec, it does print notable leftist Nick Cohen.
- New Statesman is the left-wing weekly news magazine, popularly known as "the Staggers" because of its perpetual financial precariousness. It lost a lot of prestige thanks to a period when it was owned by a slightly corrupt government minister and became slavishly Blairite. It now seems slightly confused and looking for a role.
- The Week is a weekly digest of the week's big news stories, with a fairly dull middle-market middle-wing middle-brow viewpoint. It's the news and politics magazine for people who aren't all that interested in that sort of thing but think they should be making an effort.
- The Big Issue is a weekly magazine which contains articles about social issues. Notably, it specifically exists as a means for homeless people to make a legitimate income; it is only sold in the street by homeless vendors and can't be bought in shops.
- Prospect is a monthly politics magazine with a general establishment-left (although surprisingly anti-immigration at times) and pro-European tendency.
- Spiked was created out of the wreckage of Living Marxism magazine after they falsely accused ITN of inventing Serbian death camps during the Bosnian War. It began as a broadly left-wing but anti-state magazine, but now it seems to get a kick out of saying the opposite of everyone else and essentially dressing up hard-right libertarianism as "revolutionary defeatism" and "anti-state Marxism". Many have said that it has no ideology beyond contrarianism, to the point where it endorsed people's "right to view" child pornography during the paedo-panic in the 1990s then reversed course in the 2000s to take a very conservative line on sexual matters, campaigning against gay marriage and the existence of transgender people (they're all just mad, apparently).
- New Internationalist is an alternative magazine based in Oxford with a circulation of 75,000, though with a larger presence online. Since its founding in 1973, it has stayed the course in its focus on promoting global justice and activism. It is also in ways a product of its time (and staff), with a particularly libertarian-socialist and fervently environmentalist slant in its reporting.
- The New European launched shortly after Britain voted to leave the European Union, aimed at the so-called "48%" of people who voted to stay. It is similar in editorial slant to the Guardian or the New Statesman, and as its name would suggest, it is very heavily focused on opposing Brexit. When it does talk about other issues, it tends to take a centre-left line, with a tinge of nostalgia for Tony Blair's government. Its most prominent contributor is Alistair Campbell, former aide to Blair and inspiration for Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It.
- Tribune was launched in 1937 to defend an anti-fascist United Front between the Labour Party and parties to the left of it. It later became a "democratic socialist" newspaper (and later a magazine) which supported the left-wing of Labour (except for a brief period in the 1980s and early 1990s when it advocated for the so-called "soft left", roughly, the middle of the Labour Party) and was critical of Tony Blair. From the 1960s it went into financial difficulties because it did not represent the new generation of leftists, and it would never make it out; it came close to disappearance in 1988 and 2002, and in 2018 it was bought by the American Jacobin magazine and is now "British Jacobin" in all but name (even sharing the same publisher, Bhaskar Sunkara).
But perhaps the most famous magazine is:
Private Eye is a fortnightly satirical magazine edited by Ian Hislop of Have I Got News for You fame. Its investigative journalism is better than that of most of the proper papers, with the twin results of breaking many scandals earlier than anyone else, and being the subject of countless libel suits — Hislop frequently publishes the letters threatening legal action, and he occasionally describes himself as "the most-sued man in British legal history". It's also responsible for many of the nicknames for the other papers you see here. As a self-appointed watchdog and frequent commenter on the rest of the British press and the tropes they use, it's no wonder you see them cited on This Very Wiki more than any of the real papers.
It lives in a legal grey area; it uses its journalists' anonymity and its status as a "not-quite-proper" news magazine to subtly hint at stories it doesn't have enough information on to print outright without getting sued. It does this partly to spook the subject into doing something stupid or to get more informants. It's also got an incredible collection of in-jokes, many of them being euphemisms for things they can't mention outright without the risk of a lawsuit (e.g. "tired and emotional" for "drunk", because "drunk" would imply that you've seen an official document with the subject's blood alcohol content). It's also got a number of joke pages with meta-euphemisms (such as the number 94), but political insiders claim that the Eye often has as much news in its joke pages as in its news ones, if you're in the know.
If you know French newspapers, it's basically a longer equivalent to Le Canard Enchaîné. Americans should think of the joke pages as similar to The Onion and the news pages as a print version of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and its progeny (particularly the hard-investigative-journalism-as-done-by-comedians aspects of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee), especially for its reputation for calling out the rest of the media for being stupid.
It naturally can't avoid having its own political opinions, and it has a somewhat split political personality. The news pages tend to be quite left of centre — it even co-sponsors an investigate journalism prize with the Guardian — but it doesn't hesitate to attack the Labour Party itself (thanks to old conflicts between Hislop and the party). The cultural coverage, meanwhile, leans toward "all modern art is a con trick and all pop culture is trash" conservatism. It has a particular dislike for the American government and particularly criticizes it for its actions in Guantanamo and the Chagos Islandsnote , but it will jump even harder on the British government for doing anything remotely similar. It dislikes both the Royal Familynote and Scottish nationalism. It's simultaneously Eurosceptic and anti-Brexit, although some political commentators would claim this is not a contradiction, but actually a very typical British political stance if one considers that the Guardian and the Mirror hold similar opinions — the EU has its problems and should be criticised, but that doesn't mean the UK should actually leave it. If one accepts this consistency, this makes its anti-Brexit stance its only genuine political leaning. Basically, it's an ultra-contrarian magazine more than anything else.