This week has seen a fundamental relaunch of the Mirror as ’the
paper for the new Millennium’. Editor Piers Morgan is striving to put
his annus horribilis behind him.
The timing is right - tabloid newspapers enjoy their best circulations
in January and February as overdrawn readers slump gloomily at home. And
much of the change, which includes an extra eight pages on average per
day, a daily features section aimed at women and more consumer advice,
is basically sound. It would be surprising if the current burst of
promotion did not produce a small upwards blip.
The paper, trailing far behind the Sun, needed more content. Even the
bold poster-style front page, based on the New York Post, may work if a
way is found to advertise the best stories on it.
But the move speaks volumes about the problems rocking the title, which
the revamp only partly addresses. As a rule successful titles, sure of
their territory such as the Sun and the Daily Mail, do not need to
relaunch, because they constantly tweak themselves and instinctively
understand their readers. It is papers in a genuine mess, such as the
Express - where the battle to stem losses and move towards seven day
working has yet to show fruit - and now the Mirror, watching readers
leak away in thousands, which are forced along this path. The latest
June/November national readership figures show the Mirror lost 6.9 per
cent of its adult readers in the period.
Only the Express, with an 8.5 per cent loss, suffered more. In contrast
the Daily Mail rose by 18.6 per cent. Talk about the Mail outstripping
the Mirror is not far-fetched. When it comes to the numbers of coveted
readers under 45, the two are almost neck and neck.
The Mirror’s problems are manifold and go back years, perhaps to 1969
when Rupert Murdoch got his hands on the Sun. There was an awful lot
wrong with the paper David Montgomery took over from the deceased,
disgraced Maxwell four years ago. When Maxwell bought it in 1984 it was
well below its peak. But the paper has, tragically in my view, been
gutted of its best writers, lost its radical campaigning edge and with
that, its sense of popular seriousness.
The Mirror still matters because it is Britain’s only Labour-supporting
mass market tabloid. If it were in a healthy state it should be on a
roll, poised to play a lively part as a popular critical sounding board
for Tony Blair and an incoming Labour government. But there is little
sign it has the intellectual firepower at its core to do that.
I’ve spent much time canvassing opinion about the relaunch. The most
telling thing was that influential people I had assumed would know all
about it were completely blank because they no longer took the Mirror at
home, or read it elsewhere. It is horrifying how a paper’s influence can
drain away, positioned for the Millennium or not.