Most people in the media believe that Rupert Murdoch has been the most
important and dominant press baron of modern times. After a life-time
spent rubbing out unions, introducing supplements and price warfare, his
role in revolutionising Britain’s newspaper industry is secure.
And yet it is clear that everyone involved with the business of papers
is obsessed by the successful and influential journalism of the Daily
Mail, which day after day combines energy and instant reaction with
formidable resources. When Kelvin MacKenzie edited the Sun it was
unmissable (remember Hop Off You Frogs, Gotcha, and Up Yours Delors).
Now it is the Daily Mail’s very distinctive form of high energy
editorial which is in the ascendancy. It seems to race ahead under its
own head of steam, in pursuit of an earthy, popular Conservative agenda.
In the past week the paper has proved able to change Government policy
(‘Live in Lovers Bill is Shelved’), humiliate the Lord Chancellor and
once again make its growing army of readers feel that they are
identified with a crusading paper speaking up for the common sense tax
For good measure, the Mail’s crusade in favour of middle England issues
such as marriage and family life never gets heavy-handed. It is a text
book study in demonstrating what sells. Last week’s high moral tone was
carefully balanced with salacious autobiographical details of actor Sir
Robert Stephens’ affairs with married beauties, the confessions of Spike
Milligan’s ex-lover and single mother - plus a fashion spread of four
real women dressed gorgeously, for pounds 10 each.
Here is a paper under the joint direction of old-style proprietor Lord
Rothermere and editor-in-chief Sir David English which has truly lived
up to best business school precepts by not cutting prices, opting for
quality, and reaping a sale rise.
It pays top salaries, and tries to hold onto its favoured staff through
thick or thin. Both Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black have tried to
attract editor Paul Dacre, and both have failed.
This is why Sarah Sands, the new deputy editor of the Telegraph was only
repeating Fleet Street truisms in her leaked memo to Charles Moore about
capturing some of the Mail’s brilliance for the paper.
And yet I find it strange and a little sad that there is such a rush
towards the Daily Mail’s middle ground, to such an extent that it
sometimes seems as if the broadsheets would be happy to print its
content simply in a different format.
Rivals should stand by the principle of diversity, and learn a lesson
from the paper’s success. Reverse the trend towards editorial cuts and
telephone journalism. Let’s see a revival in the art of good story-
telling, the narrative technique which draws in readers. There is an
awful lot of instant analysis and superficial writing which could be
ditched, to everyone’s benefit.