This was not a good war for newspapers. I am not so much thinking of the journalism. Much of it was excellent, though newspapers are obviously at a disadvantage to 24-hour rolling news channels, which not only provide breaking stories but also analysis from people who surprisingly often know what they are talking about. Newspapers scarcely put on sales during the war, and those that did appear already to have lost them. This is very disheartening to editors who have burnt the midnight oil, to reporters on the spot who have risked life and limb, and to publishers who have spent tens of thousands of unbudgeted pounds only to see very little sales uplift, if any at all.
Exact figures are hard to establish. We have the ABC circulation figures for the whole of March, but hostilities did not begin until 20 March. On the other hand, papers were full of the war long before it started; in fact from the beginning of the month. The fanatically pro-war newspapers seem to have won few, if any, extra readers during March. (When I say ‘readers’, I really mean ‘buyers’.) The Daily Telegraph’s average circulation during the month was almost the same as it was in February. The Sun put on some 5,000 sales in March, but with a circulation of three and a half million that was scarcely significant. These papers may have been giving their readers what they wanted. Undoubtedly, the Telegraph’s coverage from the Gulf was impressive. But whereas both titles drew in extra readers during the Falklands conflict, which was after all a great national war, they failed to do so on this occasion.
The anti-war papers offer a more varied analysis. The main loser was the Daily Mirror.