Rebekah Wade’s appointment as editor of the News of the World had
Fleet Street gossiping for a week. The speculation has been frantic, not
least because Wade is keeping her thoughts firmly to herself.
Was Wade’s appointment a gambit to prevent her departure from the News
International stable after friction with Sun editor David Yelland and
fulfill ambitions for an editorship? Or was it that the demand for Blue
Peter presenters snorting cocaine is diminishing and with it, former
editor Phil Hall’s reputation?
What is clear is that Wade’s editorship is going to produce changes
which coincide with some savage marketplace fluctuations. The News of
the World’s circulation has been falling since Phil Hall took over the
reins, dropping from 4.78 million to 3.8 million.
At the same time, rivals at Mirror Group’s Sunday Mirror have stemmed
the flow of departing readers and may even begin to add readers in the
next quarter. Overall, however, the three red tops - Mirror, People and
News of the World - have been in decline for 30 years.
Ironically, most tabloids benefit from broadsheet readers buying a
second paper on a Sunday and that second paper purchasing decision is
usually made in the newsagents. The tabloid front page story then
becomes paramount, but the demands of the readership are changing as the
newspapers realise that the traditional, older, downmarket male reader
is no longer a viable long term core. Thus, Wade and her rivals at
Mirror Group are looking to trim the vibrant circulation figures of the
Sunday Express and the Mail on Sunday by stealing women readers. This
suggests that the celebrity coke binge story may be receding from the
head lines, although publicists warn that this should not encourage
celebrity PROs to relax.
’The red top papers are still primarily about expose,’ says Mark
Borkowski, managing director of Borkowski Press and PR. ’The journalist
will have spent so much time putting the story together that by the time
they ring you they are going to run the story whatever you do.
’Some publicists try to bargain the story out of the paper but it’s like
turning a super tanker. If your client is 100 per cent certain that the
story is false and that it’s a stitch-up, get on to the libel lawyers
straight away. As a publicist, you do build up contacts with journalists
on the Sunday tabloids but it is always wise to understand that those
contacts are different to relationships with other newspapers.’
SUNDAY MIRROR - COLIN MYLER
’The Sunday tabloid market has never been more competitive. It is
estimated that more than six million people regularly work on a Sunday,
most of whom are tabloid readers. The Saturday papers, with their
multiple sections and colour magazines, have become the original Sunday
papers. Why do they want to buy a paper on Sunday when they haven’t had
time to read Saturday’s? It is no longer a simple case of Sunday as a
day of rest.
’Newspapers are fighting for customers like every other business. When I
took over the Sunday Mirror in April 1998, the previous year-on-year
circulation decline was nearly 11 per cent. It is now down to a
year-on-year running average of a half a per cent.
’It had eight editors in six years, a period of incredible instability
both for the staff and its readers. It needed a clear redirection. The
staff needed to know exactly what the paper stood for and so did its six
million loyal readers. It needed strong, exclusive news coverage,
well-written intelligent features, vibrant sport and good
’There is more blue water between ourselves and the News of the World.
We still cover sex and scandal but in a more intelligent and mature way.
The paper is not complete but it is on the right track.’
SUNDAY PEOPLE - NEIL WALLIS
’Tabloid readers are more sophisticated, more demanding and more
intelligent than they were even 10 years ago. There is so much more to
distract them now - the mid-markets are obsessed by showbiz ; all three
commercial terrestrial channels are saturated with tabloid TV, and Sky
has rewritten the soccer programmes to the massive detriment of Sunday
The challenge for Rebekah Wade, me and every other tabloid editor today
is: ’what can I do that is new and interesting?’. Do we need to
re-invent the wheel?
’The most successful non-promoted issues we’ve run in the last six
months could be described as classic tabloid fare. We covered Martine
McCutcheon topless with her new lover and Sporty Spice’s change of
shape. But stories like that don’t come along every week and the rest of
the package has to make up for it.
’Features, investigations, thought-provoking think pieces - they all
need to be top quality. Too often in the past red tops have relied on a
sensational front page then failed to deliver inside. If we can get that
balance right, it will make a huge difference. It would also help to
have the Mail on Sunday’s brilliant, but incredibly costly magazines,
the News of the World’s vast spending power and the Sun’s endless supply
of expensive marketing.’
SUNDAY EXPRESS - MICHAEL PILGRIM
Position: Executive editor
’The Sunday red tops and the News of the World in particular have barely
changed in years. There is little acknowledgement that readers’
interests have broadened. Everyone expects sumptuous magazine
supplements these days: any editor wishing to claw back market share has
to offer that.
’The front of the red tops are usually brilliantly designed but the
inside pages are such a jumble of type. They can’t sustain their market
share without pulling in young people. But the sort of young people who
ought to buy the News of the World don’t like reading and are superbly
served by television. I’m also baffled by the sort of people they turn
over - does anyone really care about Johnny Walker?
’I hate the term mid-market. The Sunday Express aims to produce a paper
with universal appeal - that works for broadsheet and red top
’I am delighted with our current package: we have the biggest sports
section in Fleet Street at 40 pages; a new-look magazine with seven-day
TV listings, and a broadsheet city and personal finance section. In
April the Sunday Express showed a circulation increase of 1.46 per cent
on the same period last year and a 4.54 per cent increase on March.’