So, with reports of GMC considering closing the Observer, it looks like a bad day to be talking about left-ish news publications. I haven’t bought the Observer more than a couple of times in the last seven years: I haven’t valued its coverage since its uncritical regurgitation of the dodgy dossier, I have no love for any of its star columnists, and I suspect that the Sunday papers generally have also lost out through competition with the vasty Saturdays, which normally keep me reading all weekend.
I don’t know how representative I am of non-Observer readers. Still, there’s room in my life for something besides the dailies, the RSS feeds and Private Eye, and I’m quite excited about two new publications that have just fluttered through my door: the Frontline Club’s quarterly broadsheet, and the relaunched Tribune. Frontline bills itself as “political, but party-politically-allergic, irreverent and iconoclastic in equal measure” so perhaps it’s not totally accurate to place it on the left, but it has an internationalist perspective and an interest in social justice that I at least associatate with the left-wing. It also looks beautiful, with an ultra-sharp layout using Futura for headers, heavyweight paper and a centre section of photojournalism printed on near photo-quality stock (see it in detail at magCulture).
The photo story on the victims and perpetrators of violence in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez is easily the standout part of the broadsheet. The quality of the paper makes the quality of the pictures captivatingly obvious, and it combines the raw news value of telling you something shocking you didn’t know with subtle storytelling that gives the bloody mass of violence it describes a personal emotional sting.
But almost all the contents of Frontline feel exceptional – which is why the appearance of anything substandard (in this issue, another outing for Susan Greenfield’s unconvincing and unsupported “the internets are killing our children” thesis) feels especially jarring. With 16 broadsheet pages to fill ever three months, this sort of baseless opinion-spouting should have been eliminated entirely, and hopefully the next issue will extend the high news standards to every column inch.
Frontline is a vanity project in the best sense, with writers, designers and photographers offering their finest work for showcasing. Fortnightly Tribune aims to bring a left-wing voice into debate, quickly and clearly, and it has a functional design that reflects its intent: it uses the same serif typeface for headers and body, and there’s often an unsatisfying amount of white space around the page furniture. Picture quality is variable (although apparently there are new staff coming on board to take care of this) – the words and the ideas are the thing.
And what Tribune offers is an editorial line that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else. It calls itself “A thorn in the side of all governments, constructively to Labour, unforgiving to Conservatives”, and its most radical proposition seems to be that underneath all the shameful accretions of New, the Labour Party is still good for something. Tribune’s purposeful voice suggests that (whatever is happening at GMG) left-wing journalism is still good for something, too.
I have one extra copy of Frontline issue 1 to give someone who would like to sample it – please leave a comment if you’re interested.
© Sarah Ditum, 2009