The capture of Saddam Hussein was not quite in the JFK league of events that change the world.

But, nonetheless, where you were when they finally caught the tyrant, and how you first found out, will stick in many people's minds forever.

Now, what are the media implications? I settled down with the rolling news channels on Sunday morning and saw the jaw-dropping live press conference where Saddam's examination by a doctor was first shown.

It was an exceptional day, but the newspapers, £5 worth, went entirely unread in my household and, perhaps, in yours, too. The time I'd usually allocate to them was usurped, mainly by Sky News - excellent as ever.

By the evening I looked at this massive pile and thought, what's the point? And I love newspapers.

Nor did Monday's newspaper coverage ring many bells: we'd already seen it. If Saddam's capture was too late for the Sundays, it also broke a bit too early for the Monday papers.

Now, of course, there are lots of subjects live news doesn't go near. For example, you need the tabloids if Vinnie Jones' lapses and repentance matters to you. They are the receptacle for important, detailed, less dramatic news, which many people require for the conduct of careers.

But national newspapers are ending the year facing a range of perplexing questions. They are big conservative brands confused about their future.

The Telegraphs are in limbo. The Daily Mail on a plateau.

In crude terms, weekday sales of nationals are down some 600,000, Sundays minus-370,000, or five per cent on a year ago, though cover prices have hardened - but so have special subscription offers.

The exception is the compact Indy, which, with a small gamble, has pushed up sales eight per cent, while a thriving tabloid Times is starting to experiment So those offering a more customer-friendly size are scoring.

The Guardian has set its designers on the job but, as the coolest urban title, it won't want to be third. It is likely to seek something radical for the new year.

A Guardian Lite might work well.

And it has another important leg to its stool - rather like rolling news channels, resources are poured into its 14 websites, including job ads, extending its brand beyond the UK.

The Telegraph's retired elderly readers seem to like a big bold broadsheet. But there is no shame attached to offering a downsized version for commuters - or a sports-led tabloid. That's a respectable, conservative option.

Unpacking the supplements attached to papers is a trickier issue. Most were devised pre-internet, the expansion of commercial radio, celebrity magazines, and now the personal video recorder.

The creation of sections once persuaded people to spend more time perusing newspapers and ads. That may not be what busy people now want to do in a mix-and-match world. Although you must differentiate between those supported by display ads and classified, the way forward may be a two-track approach.

A national newspaper's role as a trusted voice means greater emphasis on editing skills and targeting content and adverts more carefully.


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