Rupert Murdoch’s much-anticipated The Sun on Sunday tabloid launched this morning in Britain, starting what its sister Sunday Times broadsheet called “one of Fleet Street’s biggest circulation wars for decades.”
There has been much turmoil surrounding The Sun, Murdoch’s flagship British newspaper, following the recent headline-grabbing arrests of senior journalists as part of an investigation into whether public officials were paid for scoops. The drama prompted questions over how much control Murdoch retained over the crisis facing his U.K. media empire—along with speculation that he might even shutter The Sun, as he did the News of the World at the height of the phone-hacking scandal last summer. But Murdoch buckled down for a fight instead, announcing that The Sun would be putting out a Sunday edition—and doing so right away.
Now Murdoch’s rivals have to contend with a new Sunday paper whose launch was announced just a week ago today. The new title is printed on thick, bright paper stock and priced at a cut-rate 50 pence—half the price of both News of the World, which had sold 2.7 million weekly copies, and its traditional rival, the Sunday Mirror, which had picked up many of News of the World’s readers. Murdoch has said The Sun on Sunday will strive to be more ethical and female-oriented than the now-infamous News of the World.
The new launch was so dear to Murdoch that he rolled up his sleeves and got to work in the paper’s London newsroom last week as staff hustled to line up advertisers and columnists. “More good Sun news. We're completely sold out for advertising!” he tweeted Thursday. Last night Murdoch even traveled to the company’s printing plant in Hertfordshire, a county north of London, to set the presses in motion. A photo op showed Murdoch proudly hoisting a copy of the inaugural edition, as he had when he relaunched the daily Sun as a tabloid after purchasing the newspaper in 1969. The Sun has gone on to become the highest-circulation daily newspaper in Britain and has found a place close to Murdoch’s heart—one person close to the newspaper calls it his “family jewel.”
The 1969 Sun launch lead with the cover headline ‘Horse Dope Sensation,’ for a story in which a racehorse trainer admitted to doping his horses. This time around, it’s ‘My Heart Stopped for 40 Seconds.’
On Friday, Murdoch tweeted that he’d be happy with sales for the new title “substantially over two million!” “No pressure then,” Sun editor Dominic Mohan jibed in a Sunday Times column today recounting his hectic week preparing the launch. “There’s a free bar at the pub once we’re finished but I plan to be on the back of a motorbike to our printing plant to catch the boss pushing the button to let the presses roll.”
Some highlights from today’s launch:
• The newspaper’s journalists searched hard for a front-page exclusive. The 1969 Sun launch lead with the cover headline “Horse Dope Sensation,” for a story in which a racehorse trainer admitted to doping his horses. This time around, it’s “My Heart Stopped for 40 Seconds,” trumpeting a “world exclusive” account of Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden’s near-death experience after giving birth to a daughter last month. “I was moments from death,” Holden tells the newspaper.
• Other items billed as exclusive include a story on how pop star Adele “bravely battled through the Brits”—the awards show at which she drew headlines last week by flashing her middle finger at the host—after her grandmother was rushed to the hospital following a heart attack; an article on the U.K. government preparing for a potential conflict with Iran; photos of soccer star David Beckham with his son; and an interview with the parents of a murdered 19-year-old who was eight months’ pregnant at the time.
• New columnists include model Katie Price, whose opening effort is “Kids need love … not posh school”; John Sentamu, the archbishop of York; and political columnist Toby Young.
• The newspaper is expected to be more family-oriented than its predecessor. Page 3—a notoriously lewd space in British tabloids—features a photo of a topless Kelly Rowland, former Destiny’s Child singer, with her hands covering her chest. “She’s covering herself with her hands. That makes it family-friendly,” quipped a veteran U.K. journalist.
• The editorial—titled “A new Sun rises today”—makes mention of the phone-hacking scandal and recent arrests gripping the company. “The Sun has been a tremendous force for good. It is worth reminding our readers, and our detractors, of that as we publish our historic first Sunday edition during what is a challenging period,” it says. It then goes on to lay out the new paper’s credo. “You will be able to trust our journalists to abide by the values of decency as they gather news … we further promise you this: The Sun will never hesitate to speak its mind. It will never sit on the fence. It will never be boring.”