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  • Thank you and hello: The Sun rises for a seventh day

    February 20, 2012 @ 1:08 pm | by Laura Slattery

    “This is not the weather forecast…” reads the front-page Sun “exclusive” this morning as it promises that there will be an Irish Sun next Sunday. Actually it reads “THIS IS NOT THE WEATHER FORECAST… IRISH SUN NEXT SUNDAY”, to be more precise. Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenants are doing what nobody except News International and passing Russian oligarchs would contemplate these days: they’re launching a printed newspaper.

    Notwithstanding the double-digit circulation declines in the UK Sunday newspaper market – and glossing over for one moment the fact that nine current and former Sun journalists have been arrested in connection with alleged illegal payments to public officials – Murdoch’s manoevre is not all that bizarre (no pun intended).

    While the speedy demise of the News of the World last July took thousands of readers out of the market, if any publication can recapture it, it’s likely to be the Sun on Sunday – though not, perhaps, in Liverpool. For all the public opprobrium, readers never got a chance last summer to prove they were serious about boycotting the News of the World, and in any case the shared parentage of the Sun seems unlikely to prove a problem for most readers seven months on.

    Maintaining a seven-day operation at the Sun is also likely to prove substantially cheaper on labour costs than the old Sun / News of the World system, which is why rumours of a seven-day Sun were circulating long before the Guardian published its story on the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. Even if it’s not a commercial success, it has already achieved an instant public relations goal for Murdoch, allowing him to  ”move the story on” from last week’s narrative of civil war and crumbling empires.

    So is the arrival of the Sun on Sunday a good thing? Ever since the idea was floated that the weekday Sun might go the way of the News of the World, people employed elsewhere in the media (and bet-hedging politicians) have been happy to declare that the loss of another newspaper – yes, even one that brought us “WHITNEY’S DEATH BATH” – would not be in the public interest. It would even be bad for democracy, given how much “good campaigning journalism” was apparently squeezed in between the breasts.

     Such intra-industry solidarity was too much for one Guardian feature writer, who tweeted, “to all those saying it’s either the Sun or Pravda: come off it”. Indeed. Democracy, I’m guessing, would muddle along pretty much the same with one less Murdoch newspaper. If anything, ”the moment of evangelical release” in the House of Commons last summer - as Hacked Off campaign founder Brian Cathcart phrased it – suggested that a weaker Murdoch would probably be a good thing for British democracy.

    The launch of the Sun on Sunday means it’s pretty much a case of “as you were”. As for Rupert himself, his one tweet on the arrival of his latest print baby was this: “Just for the record: Newscorp shares up 60c on news of Sun on Sunday. Highest for year.”

    Phew, eh.

  • New Valentine’s Day rule: only single people get to use the phrase “Hallmark holiday”

    February 14, 2012 @ 8:00 am | by Laura Slattery

    Everyone knows e-cards aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on, but it’s the printed greeting cards industry that gets a proper hard time from people who think mass-produced sincerity is incompatible with how they truly feel. A “Hallmark holiday” is shorthand for dates in the year when naysayers feel guilt-tripped into buying anodyne stuff for the long-term parkers in their lives, and, let’s face it, sometimes it’s just easier to profess repulsion than it is to come up with consumption-free alternatives to mark the occasion.

    Statistically, you are 2,874 times more likely to hear the sneer “Hallmark holiday” applied to Valentine’s Day than to Mother’s Day. Happily, today is Valentine’s Day, so people who consider themselves blissfully paired off but can’t be bothered to go to the shops can simply blurt “Hallmark holiday” in the hope that it all goes away. It probably won’t though. Hallmark is a $4 billion company – a privately owned, Kansas-based king of sales, manufacturing and intellectual property licensing – and it will take more than a recession, a few thousand personalisation apps and a dollop of ennui to unravel it all.

    The “Hallmark holiday” declarers can come across like they believe they’re pointing to some covert retail conspiracy, as if the people who brought us Purple Ronnie and the Cessna-themed “brother” birthday card are engaged in a devious scheme to manipulate our innermost emotions and only they are resolute enough to stand alone from its saccharine tendrils.

    Perhaps that is a more accurate reflection of what’s going on than American Greetings’ description of itself as “a creator and manufacturer of innovative social expression products that assist consumers in enhancing their relationships”. So far, so Facebook. American Greetings, by the way, is the second largest publisher of greeting cards in the world and parent company of such brands as Carlton Cards, Gibson Greetings and Camden Graphics. But “American Greetings holiday” just doesn’t trip off the tongue quite so fast.

    The point is, you only have to have endured one solo February 14th deep in a post-break-up mire to know this: While the sight of slow-walking couples holding hands, heart-shaped helium balloons, ribbon-collared teddy bears and/or cupid’s milk chocolate arrow as they hold up pathway traffic may indeed be gut-wrenching for several reasons, there’s nothing more irksome to a single person than the trill of a coupled-up person who casually asserts the meaningless of the day even as they’re promising their mobiles that yes, they can vacate the table by nine.

    In any case, the Hallmark sentiment-behemoth might have helped popularise Valentine’s Day cards, but it didn’t invent them. The practice of sending cards predates the founding of the company by at least 60 years – a factoid worth keeping in your back pocket if your partner turns out to be a tedious Valentine’s curmudgeon but you haven’t reached that level of jadedness yet. The Hall brothers did lay claim to having invented modern gift wrapping paper, though, so they’re not entirely innocent. And if your partner is allergic to red envelopes, remember to keep some sense of perspective.  It could be worse. They could be “more of a savoury person”.

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