MEDIA: The Express can learn more than one lesson from the Mail

When Rosie Boycott announced she was switching to the Express last week, she had by her side a savvy PR expert, Julia Hobsbawm, to field her calls. Nothing wrong with that, but indicative of the way she plays the media game. Boycott is smart, courting personal publicity like a TV star, an approach unmatched since Andrew Neil’s reign at the Sunday Times.

When Rosie Boycott announced she was switching to the Express last

week, she had by her side a savvy PR expert, Julia Hobsbawm, to field

her calls. Nothing wrong with that, but indicative of the way she plays

the media game. Boycott is smart, courting personal publicity like a TV

star, an approach unmatched since Andrew Neil’s reign at the Sunday

Times.



It’s not surprising she sanctioned the presence of a Channel 4 film crew

during her brief month in charge at the Indy, or that Andrew Marr’s

decision to cancel it was a major reversal. I first saw her in action

some eight years ago launching a glitzy prize for non-fiction writers

through Esquire magazine when she edited the title - a clever move

instantly creating a circle of top writers willing to write for her. If

she was operating in Manhattan, no one would bat an eyelid.



This was all part of the gamble David Montgomery bought into when giving

her the editorship of the Independent on Sunday two years ago. Her

campaign to legalise cannabis certainly got the IoS talked about, even

if it did little to stabilise sales. Another legacy, the paper’s Real

Life section is a small triumph, even if the overall paper, since

dismissing columnist Neal Ascherson, can appear more interested in Lulu

Guinness handbags than neo-Nazism in east Germany.



But PR dazzle cannot rescue ill-funded papers. What of the Express?

After Labour peer Lord Hollick took control two years ago and installed

editor Richard Addis, he said that the rival Daily Mail was vulnerable,

preaching an old-fashioned moralistic agenda. Addis, ex-Mail, with his

team were pitched in to energise the mix and edge towards the political

centre.



But Hollick was wrong. The Mail has continued to streak ahead - sales

now double that of the Express - moderating its tone with campaigns

against Stephen Lawrence’s killers, and support for Tony Blair.

Hollick’s bid to stabilise sales at the Express and the Sunday Express

has petered out.



Three decades of heavy investment in editorial by the Mail is forcing

rethinks at the Mirror and the Sun, seeking to upgrade and attract

younger and female readers.



It’s a little known fact that Hollick’s board at United News and Media

recently agreed a pounds 10 million boost to the Express’ editorial

resources.



Addis was pressed on how he proposed to use it, but he clearly failed to

convince his proprietor. This pounds 10 million is now Boycott’s pot of

gold.



However, the abrupt swing, from Addis to an upmarket editor from a

liberal left broadsheet, is fraught with danger. Lord Hollick should

read SG Taylor’s newly-published history of the Mail - The Reluctant

Press Lord. Its chief lesson is that the paper almost went under in the

1960s (until David English came along) because of a bewildering turnover

of editors, each with a different agenda.



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