22 August, 2009


Some good news for a change

News International's London weekday afternoon freesheet, thelondonpaper — sorry, thelondonpaperis to close.

Why is this good news? From my point of view, not simply because it's a serious contender for the title of world's most execrable freesheet, which it undoubtedly is, but because it will be possible once again to walk the streets of central London in the afternoons without having to run the gauntlet of their hander-outers*. Traditionally, freesheets have been left in piles or in little hoppers at locations like railway and tube stations. You could pick them up or ignore them as you preferred. With the advent of thelondonpaper and London Lite came the introduction of the hander-outers, irritatingly enthusiastic young people who blocked the pavement with their little wheeled hoppers and giant umbrellas and would thrust their publication at you as you passed. I have always been unfailing polite, acknowledging their presence and indicating my refusal courteously. Even so, some have become more aggressive and insistent of late — perhaps there's some kind of target culture in play and they're under pressure.

Recently they have begun working in pairs, one from each of the two competing freesheets position themselves across the width of the pavement creating a narrow gap through which to funnel their victims customers.

None of this would be more than a minor irritation if the buggers weren't everywhere. Instead of being concentrated at termini and other major points, they are ubiquitous. In some busy streets you literally can't go more than 30 metres without negotiating your way past another pair. The other day, walking a distance of 50m past Farringdon station, I fended off four freesheet hander-outers and two chuggers.

I exaggerate only slightly here; News Int. and Associated have, for whatever reason, really blitzed central London with these folk, and they really are a Fukien nuisance. (Well, perhaps not; most of them seem to be Indian.)

It remains to be seen what the fate of London Lite will be. Much the better of the two papers, it is hard to understand the business model. London Lite is a sort of Janet & John version of the Standard, with shorter versions of the same stories and more pictures, but all coming from the one newsroom. Apart from the occasional Gilligan feature on the dastardly doings of Lee Jasper, why would you read the Lite and then fork out actual cash-type money for the grown-up version of the Standard later on?

Perhaps Associated will take the opportunity to ditch London Lite as well, or failing that scale it back to a less intrusive scale and method of distribution. That would be nice. Walking in central London will be back to avoiding collisions with the kamikaze solipsist civilians.

Of course, now I've given up buying paid-for newspapers altogether, I must be careful to secure supplies of newsprint for its proper purpose — wrapping potato peelings and similar tasks. But I find that copies of Metro and The Wharf fill that need perfectly well, and they're quite good papers too.

* There must be a word for what these people do. It's not distributor, that's the people in the vans and/or the companies they work for, and it is not really vendor, because they're not expecting you to hand over any moolah. I guess hander-outer will do for now. I could think of some more colourful terms.

"...it will be possible once again to walk the streets of central London in the afternoons without having to run the gauntlet of their hander-outers..."

Except, of course, for the fact that there's now more vacent turf for chuggers!

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