In 1987, as a first-year University student, I wrote a letter to Morning Star newspaper, a UK socialist daily founded in 1930 as the Daily Worker and one which, in the words of a recently deceased staff member, ‘is the only one that doesn’t accept the capitalist system as normal.’
I was first struck by the sharp contrast between the editorial content and the aesthetic of the newspaper—a red top tabloid, with little in appearance to distinguish it from other UK dailies: The Sun, Daily Mirror or Daily Star. My letter suggested—somewhat simplistically—that the paper’s editors had misread the relationship between class and form, or otherwise underestimated its importance. I offered to help re-design Morning Star, suggesting that by reconsidering the way the paper looks, it might usefully reposition itself in relation to its audience, both existing and prospective. That this might be done through the newspaper’s design was indicative of the times, i.e., the era of the young upwardly mobile, and a boom period for marketing ‘designer’ culture and PR. I received no reply.
Pitched in different ways, over three decades since then, I have repeatedly offered to rebrand Morning Star asking successive editors to reconsider how we might turn and mutate the newspaper’s aesthetics in order to come up with an image of left-wing culture adequate to present political and cultural circumstances. Several years ago a particular pitch cultivated momentum when, on learning that the newspaper was in danger of going bankrupt, I was back in touch with the editorial staff. I gathered a working group to engage the board with the aim of reversing the fortunes of the paper by overhauling its identity. The working group consisted of London-based anthropologist Massimiliano Mollona, New York-based designers Dexter Sinister (Stuart Bailey & David Reinfurt) and London-based writer, editor and critic Marina Vishmidt. The project received instrumental support from the UK’s Trades Union Congress and, after lengthy discussions, the editor of Morning Star at that time, Richard Bagley, agreed to the collaboration.
The working group convened for its first session at London-based arts institution The Showroom. No sooner had work begun, and publicity material sent out, Morning Star abruptly withdrew its cooperation. Staff at the newspaper had noticed the logos for the patrons and funders of The Showroom on the press release for Morning Star Rebranded and of acute concern to them was the financial support from the financial, data and media behemoth Bloomberg. Morning Star saw this as an unequivocally negative fit with the newspaper’s political position and one that could prove toxic to its relationship with its readers. The collaboration had stumbled on issues of sponsorship and corporate patronage.