Morgan, the 'Mirror', and a modern parable

Piers obviously had a great time as editor. But that's not really what being in charge is about

Media man of the week: Piers Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror. Media woman of the week: Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror. Whether or not the coincidence of the publication of the Morgan "memoirs" and the Trinity annual figures was orchestrated, there is no doubt who came out better.

Media man of the week: Piers Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror. Media woman of the week: Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror. Whether or not the coincidence of the publication of the Morgan "memoirs" and the Trinity annual figures was orchestrated, there is no doubt who came out better.

Bailey was able to announce that profits on her group's national titles were up 11 per cent at £95m, despite a decline over the year in Mirror sales of 7 per cent. Of this drop, the company attributed a significant share to the publication of the fake Iraqi prisoner abuse pictures by the then editor, Piers Morgan, which brought about his dismissal, by Sly Bailey, last May.

Is this a parable of modern newspapering? Is this the triumph of spreadsheet over fun? Comparing and contrasting four days of extensive serialisation of Morgan's The Insider in the Daily Mail (no, not the Daily Mirror!) with the presentation of the Trinity Mirror report, one would say yes, and in this case rightly so.

I'm sure we are all glad that Morgan had such a good time as editor, and met so many celebrities who clearly adored him and shared with him their most private thoughts (although in the case of most of these people private thoughts is an oxymoron), but editing newspapers, including the tabloids, is a bit more serious than that.

Readers should have a reasonable expectation of trusting what they read in their newspaper. Employees will be directly affected by the success of their newspaper - its profitability, its pension fund (remember Robert Maxwell?). Yes, even shareholders, who have invested their money in the publisher, would expect responsible stewardship. As we are seeing at present at the Telegraph, the legacy of Conrad Black's cavalier approach to the money generated by the titles he owned is 90 people losing their jobs.

Despite the dominance of The Sun in recent years in the red-top sector, the Mirror is the paper with the history of excellence in popular journalism and the lasting devotion of the many distinguished journalists who have worked for it. Bailey would understand that it had a brand that its rivals would, and did, envy. It combined seriousness with accessibility, never talking down to its readers and remaining entertaining. And it had its finger on the pulse of its readers.

Of course, times have changed and the celebrity world has infused journalism. Morgan came from that celebrity journalism background. Highly intelligent, ever engaging, full of flair, he was seen as the man to take the fight to The Sun. Before the Iraq war he renounced tittle-tattle and said he was taking the Mirror back to its old values. He published writers of attitude - anti-war attitude - and turned the paper overnight into a campaigning newspaper of the Left. Sales fell, and he fell for the fake torture pictures, and ultimately he fell from the editorship.

What his diaries show is that this was not the real Morgan. What turned him on was the celebrity world he for a short time derided. His diary is of encounters with Fergie, Jacko, Posh, Marco (Pierre White), Will Carling, George Michael .... the list is wearisomely endless. We can allow him the interesting and newsworthy Blairs and Princess Di, but even with them the Morgan ego prevails. It was not so much what they said as that they said it to him. Little wonder that he became as much a celebrity as those whose company he so enjoyed.

It has been profitable for him. His dismissal and book are said to have earned him towards £3m. But the moral is that when the editor is the celebrity the journalism is reduced. Other editors spoke of him with reverence after his dismissal. They loved his irreverence, his fun, his carefreeness, his company. But most of them made sure they enjoyed him, rather than seeking to emulate him.

Who outside the media village can name his successor, Richard Wallace, described by Bailey as "a great editor"? Or the other national editors? They eschew personal celebrity. None of them is a household name. Editing is a gritty business. Trinity Mirror, in accepting that it is unlikely to claw back the sales lost through the fake pictures debacle, is tacitly accepting that the circulation battle with The Sun is conceded. Despite its problems, it has turned in impressive figures. Its regional titles made £151m, and Bailey is talking of further acquisitions. The share price soared.

It is an example of how profitable managing a declining industry can be. But the key is "managing", and there is no room for celebrity editors. Editing these days is about holding on to journalistic quality and convincing management this may involve spending rather than cutting.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

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