Transported: By The Army of Commuters

A few years ago, in a Political Sociology of the Modern State seminar, I remember discussing the effect of the media in a pluralist society. My point, which is not particularly original but I do stand by it, is that controlling the means of communication leads to controlling the way in which people think. What ‘Rupert Murdoch‘ can deliver to political parties, business or whomever he chooses is an army of thinkers, voters and actors. It all sounds like a bit of a conspiracy but not a problem as I am a huge fan of conspiracies.

However, let me explain a little more. Each morning when I commute to work I pass maybe a couple of hundred people who are heading in my direction. Sometimes, the majority will be reading the same newspaper – the Metro – which they pick up for free at the station. The metro is also available on the bus on the way in to work in the morning and it’s not unusual to see 20 or more people reading the same thing, same articles, same headlines, same shock horror ‘who-would-have-thought-it’ cheap, descriptive gossip. When the bus stops in town there is an older man who steps in to pick up a copy and then leaves again. It’s a very popular paper.

Occasionally I read it myself and find fascinating that, for the rest of that day, I will know the same things as other people. When my housemate and I both caught public transport to work, our conversations dwindled quite rapidly because we already knew what the other was going to say, we’d read the same things.

Imagine that on a scale of millions which the distribution of Metro papers reaches monthly these days. This is the environment in which the new Independent spin-off paper i is trying to enter.

One of the early comments on the new paper mentions how it is being ‘touted as the first “quality” newspaper launch in 25 years, it’s a slimmed down version of the Indie designed for busy, younger readers who may have never got the paper-reading habit.’

It’s not only younger readers who may have never picked up the habit but it’s their bite-sized, limited character, short-attention span consumption to which the paper is focusing its efforts. I picked up a copy on the first day of its launch and struggled to find anything to hold my attention. Lots of little bits and pieces (see link for a better description) and only one substantial article which I read in its entirety – Johann Hari’s condensed article on how Obama let us down. I would have preferred the longer version in the Independent.

That was only my first attempt and I’m going to try again soon as I am now armed with my five-days worth of vouchers.

I will let you know if it’s worth recruiting to this new cause which at least has some commentary and analysis, even if it’s condensed.

3 responses to “Transported: By The Army of Commuters”

  1. Interesting article, Joanna! I hadn’t really thought about all these people reading the same thing and having the same ideas and knowledge. That’s a very interesting concept.

    In the “old” days, people (but maybe fewer) would also read newspapers on the train. Am I skeptical in thinking these were mainly The Sun and The Mirror? Or were there a lot of The Times and The Guardian?

    I think nothing much has changed, maybe, in that respect.

    A “quality” newspaper for commuters (but one you have to pay for?) is interesting. We already have this in the Netherlands, it’s called NRC Next (with NRC being the original, still existing, broadsheet). It also has bite-size news stories just like you describe. I’m not sure how it’s doing. It hasn’t changed the world, for sure! 🙂

    1. Very interesting point about a similar scheme already in place in the Netherlands. I’m pretty sure the Metro originated on the continent as well? I do see some Guardian, Times and Daily Mails being read as well but the Metro dominates on public transport, especially on short distances. Thanks Judith 🙂

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Joanna Papageorgiou, Lees Wammes. Lees Wammes said: RT @stillawake: Transported: by the Army of Commuters who are more than just pretty, travelling faces via @Stillawak … […]

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