Is Diana still front page news?

by Adam Batstone

You may have noticed that we are approaching the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

In fact if you still read a tabloid newspaper or watch TV in the UK you couldn’t help but be aware of this moment in time. But do we still really care?

A swift and unscientific poll of colleagues under the age of 35 reveals almost total indifference to this moment and the sea of coverage it has generated. A generation of millennials has grown up who barely remember Diana when she was alive and can only faintly recall the tumultuous events following her tragic death in Paris.

So if a large section of the population is indifferent because of their age – and another swathe is indifferent because there’s nothing new to say and they don’t like royal stories, why do the papers insist on splashing on Diana stories time and time again?

The simple answer is that the decision makers in what was Fleet Street and at the BBC, ITV and Sky News have led their working lives in a context where Diana stories set a bizarre benchmark. The simple act of putting a picture of the Princess of Wales on the front page of your newspaper or magazine had the magical impact of boosting sales – and extraordinarily this seems still to be true.

But does that mean we all still love Diana stories or does it confirm the suspicion that newspapers – at least their print editions – are catering for an ageing and dwindling readership?

For the Daily Express – for whom the excuse of an anniversary was never required to publish portraits of the late lamented royal – there is no doubt their readers are of an age to remember Diana well. But at The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror news desks it seems they can’t just let her go.

Diana is everywhere in the print editions – the most tenuous details, quotes from people who once met her, obsession with her legacy and pictures – everywhere you look pictures of one of the most photogenic royals of modern times.

The other phenomenon this Diana obsession reflects is the media’s obsession with anniversaries, some more poignant than others. In recent weeks we have had the centenary of the battle of Paschendale and the Russian Revolution, it’s been 40 years since the death of Elvis, 60 years since the birth of Test Match Special and Milton Keynes was 50 last week.

This is all good news for the PR industry, who can magic up a peg on the thinnest of excuses, but does anyone really care?