Mirror shareholders cut Sly some slack

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The Independent Online

Pressure on the newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror eased yesterday when the prospect of a shareholder revolt over ownership of its national titles receded.

Tweedy Browne, the US investor which owns 5.5 per cent of the company, is now understood to be backing the Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey and her strategy of retaining the Daily Mirror and the other national titles.

A fund manager at one major shareholder, who did not wish to be named, said yesterday that Ms Bailey had "a couple of years to prove herself". He added that "previously we couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel" but the changes made by Ms Bailey had given some hope for the future of the group. However, the shareholder stopped short of unqualified support for the new regime. "The devil is in the detail," he said. "It is still not clear it will succeed".

Even such a cautionary qualification will be a welcome relief for Trinity Mirror. Earlier in the year, Tweedy Browne had voiced its unhappiness with the Daily Mirror's anti-war stance and the more serious tone the paper had pursued in recent times. The US fund manager had said that the national titles did not have same growth potential of the company's large stable of regional newspapers and should be sold off.

Ms Bailey, who took up the role of chief executive in February, responded at the end of July by announcing a change in focus for the Daily Mirror, away from "serious" news to a new more fun flavour, following a six-month strategic review. She also announced 550 job losses and the sale of the company's remaining papers in Northern Ireland.

A leading US shareholder had been quoted in July as saying that the review amounted to nothing more than a "damp squib" and that was "playing around the edges". The softening of Tweedy Browne's position appears to signal that the heat is off Ms Bailey for the time being. The development followed a meeting between her and Tweedy Browne where Ms Bailey presented her strategy. She argues that there are synergy benefits between the national and regional businesses.