Crass Warfare: "Happy List" Takes on "Rich List"

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 4/28/2008 12:11:00 AM
British newspapers are engaged in mortal kombat over declining circulation. I, like many others, have gone digital in reading news online. Who needs newspapers when you've got the Internet? There are five (count 'em!) quality dailies here in the UK. If you want me to try arranging them on the left-right political spectrum, they are The Independent, The Guardian, The Times (of London), The Financial Times, and The Daily Telegraph. So much good stuff to read, yet they are all chasing a dwindling newspaper audience--and I haven't thrown in the topnotch online content of the BBC yet. Among the five respectable dailies, only the Financial Times increased its circulation in 2007--with nary a half-naked woman in sight in this age of lowest common denominator journalism.

Anyway, I've taken a shine to the Sunday editions of two of these famous papers, the Sunday Times and the Independent on Sunday. The Times has just published another special issue dedicated to the "Rich List" of those who have accumulated vast fortunes in Britain and abroad as well as their Robin Leach-worthy lifestyles. Topping Britain's richest are steel magnate Lakshmi Mital (£27.7B) and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich (£11.7B). The City of London may be in the dumps with the credit crunch, but these two and a boatload of others seem to be cruising along. In the newspaper sweepstakes, the "Rich List" issue usually does well as the chattering classes will always be interested in the holders of the greatest filthy lucre.

In anticipation of the Rich List issue, the Independent has come up with its own gimmick to move newspapers: The "Happy List" comprised of those who do their bit for charity, philanthropy, the environment, and so on. The "Happy List" is positioned as the antithesis of the infamous "Rich List." Here is the introduction to the Independent's list:

The Wealth List, Power List, Influence List, Celebrity List... almost every week some publication or other is worshipping at the shrine of the wealthy and famous. Today, 'The Sunday Times' produces its famous Rich List, an entire magazine devoted to the moneyed. About time, then, we thought, that someone produced an antidote. So here it is: the Happy List, celebrating those Britons who have given back, enhanced the lives of others and realised that in an acquisitive society there's a crying need for values other than mere materialism.

Deciding to do this – because it was needed and because we believe it reflects our readers' values – was the easy part. Choosing who to include, and the criteria they would have to satisfy, was a great deal harder. We'll spare you the pseudo-philosophical debates that ambushed the early days of this project and cut to the conclusions we reached: that the people on our list should be those who make the lives of strangers happier, that this is their prime motive in doing what they do (as opposed to a side-effect of it), and that their example deserves celebrating. And, after considering the conditions under which community happiness tends to flourish, we elected to look for candidates in 10 categories: philanthropy, charity, mental well-being, physical health, pleasure (ie those in the media and culture who make us feel better), environment, innovation, volunteers and time-givers, community activity, and entertainment...

You get the idea. Like many, I am conflicted over which list I'd rather be on. Or, perhaps, there is no real conflict between the two. Perhaps in anticipation of the Independent's dig at the Times, the latter has done a counterstrike with an article featuring the philanthropic contributions of those on the "Rich List." It all makes for interesting reading, certainly, and I'm sure it provides a momentary bit of a boost in copies sold. The news business ain't easy here, that's for sure:

A new age of philanthropy is revealed by this year’s Sunday Times Giving List. Our barometer of charitable activity shows that the super-rich are engaged in unprecedented levels of giving. They are more directly engaged in the distribution of that money than ever before. Many of the predominantly self-made men and women who top this year’s Giving List are demanding the same level of control over their giving as has served them so well in their wealth-creation activities.

The leading 30 philanthropists among Britain’s richest 1,000 people have pledged or given away almost £2.38 billion in the past year, nearly double last year’s figure of £1.21 billion, and more than five times the amount in 2006. To make the top 30, an individual had to give to charity at least 3% of their residual worth, up from last year’s record figure of 1.36%. Indeed, in our expanded table of the top 50 givers, right, all are donating at levels greater than last year’s top 30.

Their entrepreneurial confidence is fuelling a giving spree of a scale never seen before. “Sea-change is not too strong a word for what we are seeing,” says John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation. "There are two distinct trends: one is a move towards being more open about giving, the other is a move towards planned giving and wanting to take greater ownership of it. This has been going on for a while but it is gaining momentum.”