MEDIA: Lord Hollick lacks the touch to revive the public’s interest

The most unnerving job in the media must be delivering the monthly ABC circulation charts to Lord Hollick, chief executive of the Express group. Ever since his company acquired the three papers in 1996, the figures have spelt unremitting gloom.

The most unnerving job in the media must be delivering the monthly

ABC circulation charts to Lord Hollick, chief executive of the Express

group. Ever since his company acquired the three papers in 1996, the

figures have spelt unremitting gloom.



Faced with these repeated disappointments, Tony Blair’s favourite media

tycoon remains, in public, upbeat. Yet it would be no surprise if this

cool, ruthless businessman was starting to wonder whether United News

and Media should drop the news bit and concentrate on its more lucrative

ITV franchises.



The most depressing performance in the latest figures comes from the

Sunday Express, whose sales have slipped below the magic million to

992,478.



Its year-on-year decline of 5.7 per cent is the second worst performance

in the Sunday market after the People. It has lost around a million

sales in each decade since 1970, when it printed four million a week.

That was down to three million in 1980 and just below two million by

1990. If the trend continues, it will shed its last reader in 2010.



It is true that sales of national newspapers as a whole are in decline,

yet the Mail on Sunday, the Sunday Express’ only rival mid-market title,

is 3.3 per cent up year-on-year at 2,292,455 readers.



Nor can Lord Hollick turn to his weekday papers for comfort. The Daily

Star, at 621,686, records the biggest year-on-year fall at 7.44 per

cent, followed by the Express, with a dip of 5.25 per cent to 1,081,836.

How long before that goes below a million too?



Repeated makeovers have failed to halt the decline and there is no sign

that editor-in-chief Rosie Boycott will be any more successful than her

predecessors. The root problem is with Hollick himself.



Newspaper executives get irritated when old Fleet Street hacks like me

bang on pompously about the value of experience and professionalism. Yet

it is plain that the most successful newspaper groups have invariably

been headed not by financiers and industrialists, but by

dyed-in-the-wool journalists.



Paul Dacre, who runs the Mail group, has been in newspapers all his

life, as had his predecessor, Sir David English. Les Hinton, executive

chairman of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, was a colleague of mine

on the Sun in the 1960s. The Daily Mirror had its best years when Hugh

Cudlipp was in charge and, even under David Montgomery’s controversial

command, it began to close the gap with the Sun. What newspaper

experience hones above all is the instinct for choosing good editors.

Hollick clearly does not have it.



When asked, Hollick ritually denies that his newspapers are for

sale.



Yet nobody would be too surprised to see someone take them off his hands

before too long.



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