For much of my life The Times has been my newspaper of choice. I would buy and read other papers alongside, but it was always The Times first, The Guardian next and any other paper if there appeared to be something noteworthy in it, or if I wanted to track coverage of a particular news subject such as (and this is going back a bit) the controversy surrounding Melvin Burgess's JUNK.
When I was growing up, the newspapers that came into the house were the Telegraph (whisked away by my dad for his daily commute), the Daily Mail and (on my father's return from work) the Evening Standard. When, in my early teens, I briefly harboured notions of becoming a theatre critic (hard to explain this ambition given that I have been to the regular West End theatre less than a dozen times in my life) I persuaded my parents to add the Sunday Times and Observer to their weekly newsagent order.
I first began reading the The Times weekday edition after meeting my wife. Her father completed the crossword every day and by evening had set the paper aside and I would pounce on it. While away at university, every visit to the union building would begin with a check of the ground-floor pigeonholes and then it would be up the stairs and turn left into the newspaper room and look around to see if any broadsheets were available.
In the first years of living independently, buying a broadsheet on a regular basis would have been an unaffordable indulgence. The much cheaper Daily Mirror had a good racing section (these were times when an evening bottle of wine had to be won with a lucky bet on a horse) and often contained lively and contentious reporting (late 1970s).
That still leaves the best part of three decades that I can count myself as being a daily reader of The Times.
My allegiances have been leaning towards The Guardian for a long time and now it is firmly my newspaper of choice.
The Times is a mess. It is both 'in a mess' and, quite literally 'a mess'.
I have been lamenting for months, as regular readers of this blog will know, the hopelessness of its website indexing. And now it is foolish enough to announce that from mid-summer it will be charging £1 a day to access the online edition of the paper. Who in their right mind would bother? The site, just like the actual newsprint newspaper, is a mess, unwieldy to navigate and often poorly updated (especially the cultural sections). Closing public access to archived material on the site will mean that thousands and thousands of websearch links will prove dead ends or meet with £1 please doorman requests.
But this isn't why, for the first time in decades, I stopped picking up The Times in the newsagent on several days this week and walked out with only The Guardian in my hand.
The Times has been messing with its format for ages. There used to be an easily extractable Times 2 section which is now embedded in the main paper, making it an unwieldy mishmash. There is, quite simply, no pleasure to be had in reading it any more. It's like having an overbulky Daily Mail in your hands. As for the Saturday edition, whoever thought up the bizarre contradiction in formats between the fat tabloid sized main paper and the HUGE broadsheet-of-old sized Review section. Yes, the Saturday edition is a mess as well.
The Guardian on the other hand is a perfect union of form and content each day of the week.
Furthermore, there are these annoying efforts to persuade readers to become 'subscribers'. I am sorry but even when I read The Times every day I never considered myself a 'subscriber', and I do not want any more mailings telling me about the perks available to subscribers. I have already tested the 'service', and I do not want to have to remember to take my voucher with me every time I go to a newsagent. And frankly, the subscriber saving being offered (after the initial introductory offer) is derisory and certainly not worth the hassle of vouchers that haven't been properly perforated and do not tear off neatly. The more I think about it the more convinced I am that it was that pesky booklet of vouchers which finally made me lose patience with The Times. Given all the investment of time and resources that must have gone towards setting up and promoting this ill-conceived subscriber 'Club' scheme, and all the planning and preparing that I gather has been involved in establishing the pay-per-view access to the website, it is hard to see how The Times can rediscover its way.