The METRO is a free daily newspaper for commuters on trains and buses, or "urbanites" (?) as the METRO's marketing department calls them. Every day roughly 1.4 million copies of the METRO make a 12-hour journey from printing press to bin.
My friend is a METRO fan. He religiously gathers one from the train station and reads it on his way to work every day. I may be wrong but I also think he's had an email printed in it too. However, I'm ambivalent about the METRO; I only read it occasionally and could, as they say, take it or leave it. My friend thinks it's pitched perfectly in the centre of his interests whereas I see it as a collection of sub-edited press releases muted by a mob of shouty adverts.
So who is correct? Is the METRO a well-balanced source of news and entertainment or "just full of adverts." I set out to find the answer.
A lot of measuring
On the 22nd of September, 2014, I got a copy of the METRO and began my research. With a pen and a ruler I measured every single piece of content on every single page - cover to cover. My goal was to analyse the paper's content based on area; how much of each page was devoted to news, letters, adverts, etc. It took me a long time and newsprint ruined the cuff of my favourite blue hoodie in the process. At any rate I soon had the issue daubed and divided into content boxes.
I redrew each page inside Adobe Illustrator. It turned out that each article could fit into one of a handful of categories. So each content box was coloured according to the following key:
Some notes: "Self-promotion" refers to the numerous "Turn to page 'blah' for 'whatever" boxes. "Celebrities" included the royal family. "Trivial Interest" refers to the "Cookie with the face of Jesus"-type stories.
And here's what the 22/9/14 METRO looked like in all its glory:
Putting adverts aside, there are five large categories: (largest first) sport, news, arts, celebrities and travel.
Sport was the biggest category. Its readers were also the best looked-after because it was also the section with fewest adverts. In fact the double-spreads on pages 64-65 and 68-69 were the only instances of advert-free double-spreads in the entire edition. The double-page "orphan" news story near the front of the paper was about Gleneagles getting ready for the Ryder Cup, by the way.
Readers who wanted a dose of daily news weren't as lucky though. News stories were mixed with adverts and spread throughout the front half of the paper like poppies poking through a field of weeds. Still, coming in at second place at least kind-of justified the newspaper label.
The next section surprised me. I'd lumped all TV, film, book and music reviews into a dark red arts section. Altogether they presented a formidable and solid six-page section which I expected to be full of Harry Hill and Corrie stories. It wasn't; there were a lot of book reviews - almost three pages worth. Here it is:
In fourth place (discounting adverts, mind) was the mainstay of the METRO: celebrity news. This edition didn't disappoint. We had celebrities getting into cars, getting out of cars, wearing dresses, smiling and generally endorsing things. The royal family made a surprise appearance too. But how much of the paper was turned over to celebs? Not as much as you'd think.
Now, celebrity culture is not something I'm particularly qualified in. "Strictly", "X-Factor" and all that passes me by. I've met some celebrities in real life and they've generally been pleasant people. But - hand on heart - the most impressive famous TV celebs I ever met were (Baroness!) Floella Benjamin and Jimmy Cricket. Sadly this wasn't on the same day. Ms. Benjamin was at an animation conference and Mr. Cricket (nee. Mulgrew) was in a Glasgow hotel.
Back to the METRO. Here's another celebrity chart:
Finally we had a sizeable travel category. I deliberated about this classification for a while. You see, the METRO's travel section was also trying to sell things. Each article - be it a holiday report, product review or interview - seemed to end with URLs and prices so that the reader could buy a similar experience. In the end I decided to cut the METRO some slack because I actually enjoyed reading the travel section.
Intelligence smack-down! Here come the adverts!
But, alas, we must revisit the nasty business of adverts. Here they are in all their stat-skewing glory:
But how much area was dedicated to adverts compared to, say, everything else? Here's a bar chart that also includes all the other smaller sections.
Eek, that is a lot of adverts, right? Here's another way to picture it: if you could condense this issue of METRO into a single page then it would look like this:
Or, here's another way of looking at it. Imagine that the METRO was an episode of THIS MORNING, ITV's flagship magazine show. THIS MORNING is usually 90 (ish) minutes long but, for exactness we'll transpose the METRO's stats onto THIS MORNING from January 6th, 2015. So, at 1 hour, 27 minutes long, the show would look like this. The gaps are the ad breaks:
Viewers of the METRO-produced THIS MORNING would have a six-minute ad break every four to six minutes or so.
The Gist of the METRO
Finally, I went through the entire edition and summarised the content of each story, advert or feature. If you want a two-minute summary of what was happening on September 22nd, 2014 then read this. My favourite is "Policeman rescues goldfish". PS - it's a huge image which will open in a new browser window.
So, is the METRO just full of adverts?
Aye. Well, this one was anyway.