Classified as a “quality” because of its serious approach to hard news, the compact i newspaper was launched in 2010 to target “time-poor” readers who wanted impartial and independent coverage of current affairs in a style which is “straight to the point”. This guide focuses on the audience’s relationship with the newspaper and its ability to shape our attitudes and behaviours. We will also explore the patterns of ownership in the newspaper industry and the threat posed by new digital technologies.
The i Demographics
The Audit Bureau of Circulations reported an average circulation of 147,609 per issue, including over 23,000 subscriptions and 5,000 copies sold to hotels. According to Mail Metro Media’s research, 18-44 year olds spend more time reading the i than any other daily newspaper. However, the average age of the reader is 57.
If you would like to know more about how demographic data is collected for the different media products in the UK, have a quick read of our guide to measuring the audience.
The i claims to be the “essential daily briefing for a free-thinking audience” and that their readers “trust its quality, impartial journalism”. The publisher’s decision not to declare their support for either the “leave” or “remain” Brexit campaigns epitomises that impartiality. They also did not endorse a political party during the 2017 and 2019 UK general elections.
However, YouGov surveys suggest the audience is left-wing. For instance, the following data is based on 1064 nationally representative interviews of the GB population and was collected during the third quarter in 2022:
The DMG Media research also identified the vast majority of their high-earning audience as homeowners with 69% of readers “more likely to be making home improvements in the next 12 months”. Perhaps they are emphasising that point because they are trying to attract lucrative advertising.
The eco-conscious and art-loving audience are probably best described as reformers in cross-cultural consumer categories because it is the “most anti-materialistic of the seven groups” with a “core need in life” for “enlightenment”. In terms of the UK consumer groups, they might be labelled as activators who are “open to new ideas” and have a “strong sense of personal identity. Another appropriate descriptor would be seekers and its focus on “individuality”.
Understanding the cultural capital of their typical readers enables the publishers to meet their needs and encode the appropriate values and ideologies.
Uses and Gratifications
The uses and gratifications theory explores what motivates consumers to select certain products. Since the i is “for open minds”, readers of the newspaper are mostly likely looking to be informed and educated about current affairs. This need is often called surveillance. Of course, the editors and journalists will frame the stories in a way which engages the audience’s interests and reinforce their personal identity.
The i newspaper’s columnists and opinion writers might also enhance social interaction and personal relationships because the audience will become warmly familiar with their styles and perspectives. Finally, readers can escape from the bleak news and enjoy the range of puzzles on offer. This simple entertainment is called diversion.
In conclusion, the uses and gratifications theory provides a good critical framework to explain why readers actively seek out the newspaper and how the text satisfies their needs.
Stuart Hall argued audiences will decode meanings in media texts according to their frameworks of knowledge. In other words, their interpretation of the message will be influenced by their background, interests, and beliefs. This leads to his three theoretical decoding positions.
The dominant reading refers to the reader’s understanding and acceptance of the newspaper’s “fair, comprehensive coverage and mix of voices from across the political spectrum”. A negotiated position is more likely because it accepts the preferred reading but audiences modify the message to reflect their own interests and experiences. For example, the reader might appreciate an article about raising taxes to reduce the national debt. However, they could disagree with the full implementation of the policy because it will negatively impact their own finances. The newspaper is “for open minds”.
When the reader rejects the message, they are taking an oppositional position. You might completely disagree with some of the political and economic opinion pieces or ignore the sport section because you think the stories are irrelevant.
When you select an edition to analyse, make sure you find specific stories which you can use to illustrate the three decoding positions.
The Impact on the Audience
The extent of the media’s ability to shape our behaviours and beliefs is open to debate. Does the i really influence our attitudes towards important current affairs?
George Gerbner’s research demonstrated heavy users of television overestimated the violence in their neighbourhoods because they saw lots of deviant behaviour on the screen. These viewers might also experience increased fear and anxiety towards these perceived threats. Gerbner called the effect mean world syndrome. Albert Bandura also suggested some children were likely to copy violent behaviour they saw on television through a process he called symbolic modelling.
If newspapers really do shape our perspective on the world as these media effects suggest, then we need to support quality journalism. We should also be concerned who owns these institutions because they might dictate editorial policies to suit their own agenda.
The Newspaper Industry
The ownership of i typifies the volatility in the newspaper industry and the pressure publishers face to remain profitable.
Despite the continuing decline in newspaper sales and competition from online, the i was launched in 2010 by Independent Digital News & Media Ltd who believed there was a gap in the market for quality journalism delivered in a tabloid-sized format. This innovative combination would appeal to “intelligent, cultured and discerning” professionals (ABC1) who did not have time to read the broadsheets during their 45-minute commute to work.
By March 2013, ABC reported the i reached an impressive 302,757 readers each day – four times more than the doomed Independent – and was named British National Newspaper of the Year in 2015.
Chain ownership refers to a media company which operates a number of brands in a single medium, providing some stability in an uncertain market because production costs can be shared between the outlets. For example, at its launch, the same editorial staff worked on both the i and its sister paper. Inevitably, The Independent closed its print edition and moved completely online in 2016. At the same time, Evgeny Lebedev sold the profitable i to Johnston Press for £24m.
Johnston Press was established in Scotland in 1767 and operated a number of titles around the UK, including The Scotsman, the Yorkshire Post and The News Letter in Belfast. Horizontal integration is the acquisition of another company operating in the same market or industry. David Hesmondhalgh (2012) noted how cultural industry companies used this strategy to “deal with risk” and “to ensure audience maximisation”.
However, by 2018, the multimedia company was unable to refinance £220m of debt and entered administration. The i was then brought under the control of JPIMedia along with the other 200 newspapers and websites catering to the UK audience.
The i was eventually sold in 2019 to DMG Media for £49.6m who were “committed to preserving its distinctive, high-quality and politically independent editorial style”. According to PAMCo, this powerful media conglomerate can reach 63% of the adult population every month through its portfolio of national newspapers, magazines and digital content, such as the Daily Mail, Metro, and New Scientist. Curran and Seaton (2009) noted the concentration of press ownership was a well-established trend in the industry to spread the risk and maximise profits.
Vertical integration is the acquisition of another company involved in a different stage of the process of production or circulation. DMG Media already owned Harmsworth Printing before the group went on to buy JPIMedia Print Holdings Ltd in 2020 and took over its three printing plants. This “downstream” acquisition gave the conglomerate even more market power and increased their resilience to any potential supply chain disruption.
Confused? The following infographic might help clarify the changes in ownership:
The Importance of Advertising Revenue
Curran (2009) argued newspapers targeting affluent readers have always been able to attract more advertising revenue than those papers aimed at the working class. Although the i has been relatively successful developing commercial partnerships, advertising agencies continue to spend their money online.
The Advertising Association/WARC Expenditure Report provides reliable adspend data for all major media in the UK. The Q2 2022 report predicted that “online advertising will account for 74% of total spending on advertising in 2022”. Google and Facebook typically receive more than half of all money spent on digital advertising in the UK.
The final print edition of The Independent was issued in 2016 because the owners were embracing a digital future. After publishing newspapers for 252 years, Johnston Press simply could not draw enough advertising revenue to cover its costs and was forced to close. The newspaper industry certainly faces an uncertain future.
The online edition of the i newspaper was launched in 2016 and is the UK’s youngest and fast-growing national newspaper website. An app is available for iOS and Android devices which provides readers with “three daily briefings on everything they need to know”.
You can access a limited number of articles each month if you register for a free account. Of course, your data will be used to display personalised ads. There are also different subscription plans available so you can get unlimited access to the site.
Clay Shirky (2008) argued we needed to shift away from trying to preserve traditional newspaper institutions so we could find innovative ways of making journalism work. Digital editions and paywalls will help sustain some newspapers. A corporation might want to partner with a newspaper and subsidise the printing of physical copies. Or perhaps there is a better solution still waiting to be devised.