Review: The new i weekend paper

Last week, on a train to London, I wrote this review of the new iweekend paper.

I then hopped on the Eurostar, then the TGV to southern France (more on that later), then there was much delicious wine served with wine which would explain why I’ve only got round to publishing this now.

Anyway, one for the journos out there..

 The first edition of iWeekend The first edition of iWeekend

It’s a headache-inducing dichotomy.

How do you make a newspaper up to date, let alone a newspaper that is on sale across the long stretch of Saturday/Sunday in the age of instantly accessible online news and comment?

Answer – you can’t exactly – you approach it differently.

As soon as you press print on the press, it immediately becomes slightly out of date, something not particularly new just more acute in the internet age.

Editors have long pondered over sending stories into print that will likely be overtaken in the next few hours.

Will the injured person die?

Will the criminal be charged?

Will the flooding get worse?

Pressing go has always come down to practical decision-making.

It is a dilemma which faces all newspapers, particularly of the weekly variety, but in the competitive national weekend market it is particularly acute.

The fight is on to be the most topical and relevant while remaining on the news stands for two days against the onslaught of both Saturday and Sunday-only papers.

Most weekend titles have tackled the issue with an increasingly back-breaking variety of supplements and magazines to add value and blur the fact that the news element is probably a bit dusty with opinion, analysis and long reads.

Not so much newspapers for skimming but for pondering, digesting, dipping in and out of while leafing through aspirational, fascinating, pictures and shiny pages.

So I am checking out the new 80p i weekend newspaper out on a Sunday on a train, wondering how they have tackled this challenge – and without the shiny pages.

I also bought the Sunday Times which was £2.70 and is so enormous, I doubt it will make it off this Pendolino with me.

The i newspaper, edited by Oly Duff, is the newest addition to the Johnston Press (JP) stable, where I am a regional editor, and the compact national title is a success story at just six years old.

In recent months it has seen considerable investment in the run-up to the new i weekend so all of us have been watching from our regional posts with interest at our show pony, which has already done much to help JP.

 Planning for the new iWeekend Planning for the new iWeekend

As newspapers face the realities of declining sales and flagging advertising revenues plus a long slog to the magical digital tipping point where we make more money online, we are all a bit green and curious as it goes from strength to strength.

I first read The i in Starbucks when it was sold for 20p with a coffee, long before JP bought it out and I was a massive fan from day one, largely due to it’s largely neutral political stance, compact analysis of the big issues but mainly due to the logical, pick and mix, matrix approach which appealed greatly to my slight OCD tendencies.

It is perfect for the Twitter generations who like to skim everything in brief and click on a link for a longer read occasionally.

As an aside we have introduced elements of this into our regional titles on our pages two to three, something which is visually appealing and information-rich but extremely labour-intensive. So respect to the i-team who have created a lot of work for themselves.

This formula, however, has proved a winner and the challenge for iWeekend was to retain this approach with its comfort and familiarity while bringing new and exciting content to the table, without adding any supplements to further add to the nation’s back problems..

As a northerner, my first test and biggest test for any national newspaper is its London-centricity.

The majority of national newspapers are based in London with a scattering of tiny outposts and stringers plus regionalised editions.

The i, with a small (though expanding) and youthful team compared to most nationals at the moment, is no exception and the majority of its team are London-based for practicality with a few correspondents.

Its massive advantage is its huge network of regional sister newspapers and experienced journalists located in every corner of England, Scotland and N.Ireland which I’m sure it will need to take more advantage of in the future to avoid the London bubble-effect, which can be a turn-off for readers further flung.

Not everyone lives, or wants to live, in a hour commute to Buckingham Palace, something the paper has started to embrace.

It has also taking advantage of the Johnston Press Investigations Team whose recent work on the realities of the dark web and internet crime dominated its pages for a week – we’ll watch with interest to see further development on this.

The iweekend edition which looks pretty familiar from first glance – just bigger.

But on opening it become very clear what a vast amount of work has gone into it.

When you get through the first few digest-style pages it begins to feel a little meatier than the day-to day offering.

Taking a One Show pick and mix magazine style but with a  more ordered approach, it mixes news in brief, short reads, long reads, incisive and entertaining opinion and infographic style reporting with a better use of photography.

New columnists have been introduced with some big names among them, giving greater gravitas while avoiding the Sunday slave to celebrity anything approach which can be quite irritating in other titles.

New content includes the 22-page life section, which ranges from food to books to some authoritative travel, headed by the likeable and informed Simon Calder.

 Pages from the new iweekend Pages from the new iweekend

I particularly enjoyed the ‘7 days’ section, running down the week via national newspapers, and dipping into the lives of those well-known people lost during it.

Sport is also more substantial, taking a more analytic approach to cut through the reality that by Sunday, the sporting landscape will have changed substantially.

But what makes the I weekend stand out for me, is the variety and quality of opinion throughout.

I particularly enjoyed Alice Jones’ reality check on why a cup of coffee is seemingly worth more than a book in this day and age – as I read the 80p i while drinking a £3.20 cup of Starbucks coffee this argument is seemingly just as relevant to newspapers.

I’ll let you guess which lasted the longest.

I also nodded to Alex Renton’s column on the British stiff upper lip, placed amusingly underneath the cartoonist’s depiction of a Theresa May on her life raft surrounded by sharks while nearby Jeremy Corbyn, in his saintly white robes, walks on water.

Meanwhile big name Janet Street-Porter gets a full page to talk about the how concept of students as rebels is so far from the truth.

So what do I think?

The i weekend is pretty darn good.

It’s a bargain compared to its rivals and manages to incorporate pretty much everything you would want in its 88 pages, with the possible exception of a style section.

There are a few challenges, it’s dated for two days but still refers to today, tomorrow in places, dating it to a Saturday printed paper but these are teething issues.

But with no cumbersome magazines, an easy to follow index, and at a manageable size it is a new and exciting offering that I’m sure will go from strength to strength.

According to Mr Duff, it sold 30,000 copies more than anticipated with a  a circulation of 290,000.

It has already punched above its weight and its price so I am expecting great things from our national big sister.

No pressure.



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