I was at the packed fifth anniversary party of Hobsbawm Macaulay
when the news broke that Kelvin MacKenzie was quitting Mirror Group, for
Talk Radio, before a takeover battle began. What better place to witness
the reaction. Even experienced media operators gasped with
One outcome is to take immediate pressure for results off the Sun’s
clever new editor David Yelland. According to News International there
will be no panicky dash to solve flagging sales. Nor is anything so daft
as a quick march ’up market’ planned. Analyse the latest readership
figures and you find, beneath a crude drop in sales, that the paper is
dipping in key categories, among women, the under-34s and in the paper’s
traditional heartland, London and south and central England. The recent
successful push into Scotland is small consolation.
Replacing page three girls, freezing out punning headlines, bolting on
human interest features and re-hiring Richard Littlejohn is hardly going
to relight a fuse. I’ve long suspected that the Sun’s problems stem from
being trapped inside a too-narrow world of cliches: pre-school children
are always ’tots’, sex is ’rumpy pumpy’ and Garry Bushell’s male taste
in TV rules the roost. Its conversion to Labour and efforts to expand
features lack conviction.
I’ve been intrigued by a piece of research conducted for last month’s
conference - Dispatches for Disaster Zones - which contrasted the way
the British media reported Africa, above all in the Rwanda/Zaire crisis
in 1996/97. The Mirror published 24 separate items, including five
editorials, while the Sun by contrast published just seven - one
editorial. Lack of interest was not the only striking feature of its
’Little England’ mindset.
Its coverage tended to reflect purely British concerns about getting
sucked into the conflict and gave little space to explanation, while the
Mirror emphasised the suffering, and used the front page to launch an
appeal for aid. This agenda is close to TV’s most successful news
programme News at Ten.
It’s why modernising the Sun must take time. Alongside an obsession with
show biz and sinning football stars, the Sun has a chauvinist
Foreign stories are poorly projected, but so are many other areas. The
Sun may never recover its previous power, but it must become a modern
read. This is where Yelland’s experience - making the difficult area of
business and economics interesting - may prove useful.
Yet there is a further challenge. Yelland is a low-key figure. Editors
of papers in trouble currently edit with one eye on the other media.
Rosie Boycott seems to have a TV camera perched on her Express desk,
while Piers Morgans at the Mirror never misses a trick. When a new Sun
rises, it will need someone to spin it a place on the airwaves.