Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1520 - 1539)


Ms Rebekah Wade

  Q1520  Bishop of Manchester: To take the point seriously, if you were to drop Page 3, would that lead to a lowering of sales?

  Ms Wade: It is an interesting question. I have no idea what would happen. I love Page 3 and so I would not drop it, but I do not know what would happen.

  Q1521  Bishop of Manchester: Do you ever get people writing in, in terms of a feeling that there is a lack of dignity, discrimination against women?

  Ms Wade: Only Clare Short, and I wish she would stop writing. It tends to get a bit boring now. Our Sun readers love it—both male and female Sun readers. In fact they come on the holiday with us. The girls come on the holiday as well as 40 or 50 people from The Sun, and they get a very good reaction from some readers.

  Q1522  Baroness Thornton: Clare Short is not alone. In fact, there are a lot of women, millions of women in this country, who do find Page 3 embarrassing, if not offensive. I just want to put that on the record. Clare Short is absolutely not alone.

  Ms Wade: Millions?

  Q1523  Baroness Thornton: Yes, I think so. The surveys that were done about that showed that a lot of women would prefer not to have to look at naked breasts as part of their daily news diet.

  Ms Wade: Then they do not need to buy The Sun, do they?

  Q1524  Baroness Thornton: I do not want to have an argument with you about that, but I do not think that you should take it for granted that there is a consensus view about naked women in a daily newspaper, because there is not.

  Ms Wade: Yes, but I was talking about the consensus in The Sun. If you want to put on the record that millions of people do not like Page 3, then I would like to put on the record that millions of people do—7.7 million, to be precise.

  Q1525  Bishop of Manchester: So you never get any complaints from your readership about a particular photograph on Page 3—ever?

  Ms Wade: No.

  Q1526  Bishop of Manchester: You did hesitate then.

  Ms Wade: Yes, because I was trying to be very frank with you. There are some girls that are more popular than others. If Keeley has not appeared for a few weeks, then absolutely we can get some complaints; but, of course, no one who buys The Sun is going to write in and complain about Page 3. There cannot be many people in the country who do not know that the Page 3 girls are on page 3 of The Sun every day.

  Q1527  Bishop of Manchester: Let me turn to some of the stories. You have talked about celebrity and some of the things that maybe you and Mr Murdoch disagree about. Can you give any evidence of particular occasions when a story that you have decided to put into The Sun has really boosted the sales, and you think, "Gosh, that was a good idea! I'm glad we did that"?

  Ms Wade: Yes, I can give you lots of stories that have boosted sales or have seen a sales spike. I am sorry to repeat what my colleagues have already told you, but breaking news stories for example—we see enormous spikes at The Sun there. During the 7/7 bombings, the next day our circulation rose by 360,000, which is a huge figure on one day. I think that is because, in the midst of breaking news, 24-hour news, there was no one in the country or the world who did not know what happened in London on that terrible day; but obviously the next day the readers—and we had a 340,000 or 360,000, I cannot remember which—were coming in to The Sun. They were not normal Sun readers; obviously it is a sales spike. They were probably readers who may normally buy it once or twice, and literally everyone went in. I think that was to see the analysis: what happened; why it happened; what the latest was. In this media world, if you want to hear the latest you turn on the television in the morning and you get the breaking news, but there is still a critical place for newspapers in explaining very big, serious and, in this case, tragic stories. So I am very keen to keep splashing with the news.

  Q1528  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Before I ask my own question I want very briefly to go back to a question that was asked on young readership, which seems to be falling. I do not think that you answered that.

  Ms Wade: No, I am sorry, I did not.

  Q1529  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: It was a particularly important one, because we certainly have evidence of where the young are trying to communicate with each other about news, make it up as they go along, say what is in the paper is rubbish, and all the rest of it. It would be interesting to hear what strategies you have towards aiming at getting more young readers—which presumably, once you get, you believe you will keep for some time.

  Ms Wade: It is quite interesting at The Sun. I do not know if you have done this as part of this process, but the average reader of each newspaper is worth your all looking at. The Sun has the youngest average reader age of any of the newspapers, which you would probably expect. So already we feel that we are a young paper at heart. What you are seeing, though, is a migration of young readers to The Sun Online. That seems to be how it splits. Out of our 300,000 daily unique users, 70% of them will be under 35—very different to the newspaper. I think that, with online, we are bringing in young readers to The Sun world, so to speak; so that again is our strategy. I think that it would be very wrong to turn The Sun newspaper into a paper just aimed at that youth readership.

  Q1530  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Perhaps I may now turn to my particular question. It is really to work out what are the criteria which determine what stories do get into your newspaper. You have given us some pretty good examples of the sorts of things that you are interested in; that you know your readers are interested in, and therefore you give them these stories; and your own social policy interests, and so on. Give us a bit more explanation.

  Ms Wade: On the process of how a story—

  Q1531  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Yes.

  Ms Wade: In terms of the production sense or in terms of news judgment?

  Q1532  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: What are the important ones that get in?

  Ms Wade: For example, last week is quite a good thing to talk about. The Sun has become or is certainly the paper for the troops. We back the troops in all areas: whether it is better kit or rehabilitation. We have just been running this campaign called "Help for Heroes"; we are still running it. Already, we have passed the £1.5 million and that is to build a proper rehabilitation swimming pool at Headley Court. So when I say that we are the paper for the troops, we are sort of a favourite. Last week, one of my journalists, John Kay, discovered that contaminated blood had been given to our troops by the American medical facilities. In my view, when he came to tell me that he had this story, first of all we are the paper for the troops; secondly, it is an incredible investigation that he got; and of course it was on page 1 of the newspaper. By the next day, the day we ran the story, it was leading the BBC news. Each story is judged on a whole set of criteria.

  Q1533  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: That is a very good example. The second half of what I wanted to ask is this. Do you think it is more difficult to cover the serious issues than it was in the past, on politics, foreign issues and so on, and do you think that it will continue to get more difficult, as perhaps there is more interest in trivia?

  Ms Wade: No, I do not think that it is difficult to cover serious stories, certainly not more than it used to be. In fact, with 24-hour breaking news and the modern technology, you can get foreign or serious news from pretty much anywhere in the world. You saw how all the newspapers covered the assassination of Bhutto. Every single TV channel had cameras there; we had the photographs. It became very easy. At The Sun we do not have a correspondent there, but we were able to splash on that story and devote six pages to it the next day. It is actually easier to cover foreign news.

  Q1534  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: If I may say so, those are so dramatic that they were obviously going to be covered by everybody. I am thinking of the important but not quite so prominent stories.

  Ms Wade: As I mentioned before when the Bishop of Manchester was asking me about sales spikes, I find that Sun readers are very interested in serious breaking news stories. I do not think that it is any more difficult to cover that. We still have a great many journalists at The Sun who are out there every day; not sitting in the office but out there, trying to find stories. It is a broad picture in The Sun. You can probably find every story in the Telegraph today in The Sun tomorrow, bar an exclusive—every breaking story. It may be projected in a completely different way but it will be there.

  Chairman: Perhaps I could break in, because we are in the last ten minutes now. Lady Eccles.

  Baroness Eccles of Moulton: I think that the question on journalism has pretty well been answered.

  Q1535  Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick: I have a straight business question. Could you set out for us the figures on the breakdown of your income that comes from traditional sales, as compared to online and marketing?

  Ms Wade: At the moment, as I said, the economic model to look at for the purposes of this inquiry is still the newspaper, but we have seen a change in circulation, cover price revenue and advertising revenue. Ten years ago you would see a 60-40 split for cover price revenue versus advertising, and that has now become more or less 50-50. Reading the transcript of the other editors who have been here, I think that is pretty much industry-wide. Moving forward, we are seeing enormous growth in revenue coming in on the internet, on The Sun Online, but unfortunately this is from a base of practically nil. Those growths are quite stupendous, when you see the growth is up to 78%—

  Q1536  Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick: In one year?

  Ms Wade: There are these kinds of huge numbers that you see all round for the internet. I am talking about when you see Google, Yahoo or, when anyone is talking about online advertising revenue, you see these great figures. For us, these great figures do not mean that much when you are starting from such a low base. Yes, that will change and, yes, at those rates of growth, in 14 years' time—going back to the earlier question—I may be sitting here, or hopefully not, with a very different economic model. However, at the moment, the newspaper remains the most profitable with that cover price/advertising revenue dynamic.

  Q1537  Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick: Do you have a projection—based on your desire, as you said earlier, to attract the youngest readers and their own continuing use of internet readership—that allows you to become ultimately a financially driven internet newspaper?

  Ms Wade: We do have projections, but they are all projections and this is a new model, so yes, we have a set of projections, yes, we have a set of targets that we would like to achieve and so far we are doing that, but long term, which is what you are asking, I cannot be detailed and say, "This percentage will come from the internet". It will be significant in 15 years' time or 14 years' time, but still right now it is the newspaper that makes the money.

  Q1538  Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick: I notice sometimes on my Blackberry, which is Vodafone-provided, that when I go on to the Vodafone information services sometimes The Sun is the news provider, not every day, so I do not understand why you are some days and why you are not on others, but do you buy into that relationship or do they buy you in?

  Ms Wade: We have obviously done some deals, as you see, with Vodafone and it is a sort of symbiotic relationship really between the two companies. We wanted to have a strategy at The Sun that the newspaper was the best of, that the on-line was more of and that the mobile was instant, so, whichever platform you went to, we had a clear strategy of what they were going to be and that is how the mobile came up, so, rather than do a text alert, you can actually and literally right now, while you are sitting there, go on to The Sun and see what we have done on-line and how we have changed up. The `more of' came from the fact that obviously with the Web you can do as many pages as you want, whereas in the newspaper you are restricted, and the `best of', The Sun has to be the best—

  Q1539  Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick: Is the editorial stance between the three different?

  Ms Wade: No.

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