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Paper Monitor

12:12 UK time, Thursday, 13 March 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It’s the day after Budget day and Paper Monitor is settling back into its workstation after an annual ritual every bit as familiar within these walls as the chancellor stepping out on to the doorstep of 11 Downing Street and holding his red suitcase aloft. Yesterday, just as on every Budget day since internet immemorial, Paper Monitor is gently ousted from its seat at the epicentre of the news hub to make way for a thrusting business hack for the day.

The result is always the same. Come Thursday morning, desk furniture has been rearranged, the framed picture of those gap-toothed little Paper Monitorites has fallen down and into the tangle of electrical and network cables and someone else's chair has mysteriously appeared.

But to the matter in hand... Alistair Darling, eh. What a bore, at least that's the opinion of Telegraph sketch writer Andrew Gimson who says listening to Mr Darling's "lugubrious tone put one in mind of an undertaker, except that undertakers are often quite cheerful". Eh?

Picking up on the repeated use of the word "stability" in the chancellor's speech Gimson does, however, employ a neat turn of phrase in observing that "one fears [the government has] locked the stable door long after the stability has bolted". Kudos.

Unlike many business stories, the Budget at least has some broader interest value. But let's face it, there's only a certain amount you can do with a picture of a grey-haired bloke holding a briefcase.

It's a chance therefore for the papers to get a little creative… with mixed results. Metro employs an Indy-esque combination of words and pictograms picking up on colours – brown (as in the Prime Minister), green (as in the environment). It doesn't work.

The Independent itself employs a (literally) sideways glance at Mr Darling, the chancellor's briefcase obscuring his head. A visual metaphor for the theory that Mr Darling isn't his own man? No.

The Telegraph appeals to its petrolhead readers by showing pictures of four cars (duty on them is going up, in case you didn’t know).

The Times falls back on cartoonist Peter Brookes, depicting Mr D with a red disposable carrier bag. Novel.

Things are not much better in the myriad pull-out sections, although the Telegraph does something nice with a cartoonish skit on that infamous hurricane broadcast by Michael Fish. There's Mr Darling, in front of a weather map. "'Apparently, there is a hurricane on the way… well, don't worry, there isn't'*". But what's that rule about killing a joke by having to explain it? The asterisk is qualified down page with this rather stultifying explanation: "With apologies to Michael Fish, the weatherman who said on the eve of 1987's Great Storm: 'Earlier on today apparently a lady rang the BBC and said…" It goes on.

There's no such fancy footwork in the paper that must surely consider itself the Budget Bible, yes, the Financial Times. Just a picture of Mr Darling and case and about half-a-million words with phrases such as "abolition of taper relief" and "the UK's double-tax agreement". In fact, so wedded is the FT to the tenets of the Budget story that its 28-page Budget special envelops the paper itself. In other words the main paper has become the pull-out.

But the real headline from all this coverage is how restrained the qualities have been when it comes to punning on the new chancellor's name. Honourable mention therefore to the Times for "Fingers crossed, Darling".

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