For decades football matches kicked off at three on a Saturday afternoon. The reason was that the most men worked a five and a half day week and the timing allowed them to clock off, have a pint and get to the ground.
This continued years after the five day working week became the norm and only changed after Sky bought the rights to broadcast live matches. Now 3pm kick-offs for the major teams are limited.
Papers were stuck in the same boat and the Saturday edition, except for more sports pages, was just like the rest of the working week. The change came slowly and it needed revision of the Sunday trading laws to force publishers to grasp that there was money to be made in making Saturday papers Sunday lookalikes.
Change has traditionally been at snail's pace in the media industry although in the last 10 years it has been accepted that newspapers must change quickly or die. The simple fact that the scruffy old bloke stood at the end of the street shouting “orrible murder, read all about it” was redundant took a long time to sink home.
Now the Financial Times is leading the march. It was one of the first papers to install a paywall and now it is in the vanguard of structural content change. The Saturday FT has long been a terrific read with background features, in-depth commentary, a clever magazine and informed views. Its weekday editions are now going to be somewhat similar.
There will no editionising of the paper. Breaking news will be for the web versions only and the paper will carry many more commentaries, columnists and peeks behind the scenes.
What is heartening is this is being done in a constructive and inclusive way. There is no secret committee tucked away in an unused room coming up with a relaunch, and no tablets of stone coming from up high. The FT’s way is to recognise that the reporter and the down-table sub are part of the solution and should have roles in constructing the strategy.
The Guardian, probably the first to recognise the impact of the digital revolution, had similar thoughts a couple of years ago and called it “fast and slow journalism”. At any one time a large group of staff would be working on in-depth investigations and the rest working on day-to-day news. The jury is still out.
The FT has it a little easier as a specialist newspaper. It does not need a newsroom full of general reporters and has not got the costs that go into covering mainstream news. News is not, and has never been, cheap.
There is no doubt that the FT model would be good to copy and would work well for mainstream newspapers, but at what costs?
It would be easy just to hire more commissioning editors to fill the pages with commentary but you can only have so many. The answer is as old as newspapers themselves: news features and investigations, the staple diet of the Sunday market.
But as any Sunday editor would tell you: it takes money and for every good investigation or good news feature many more will face the delete button.
Every news organisation will be looking at the FT experiment with interest and when it works, as I am sure it will, recognise that investing in journalism and content is the way forward. At a cost.