Gideon Spanier: So if The Sun 'needs a kick', can a change of editor provide it?
Media Studies: Critics say Dominic Mohan failed to find new columnists and the paper has been losing its touch
Monday 24 June 2013
Dominic Mohan has had the most difficult tenure of any Sun editor. On some days, it was a feat just to get the paper out because of the scandals over illegal payments and hacking that have led to the arrest of dozens of colleagues.
Now the 44-year-old is moving to an advisory role after less than four years and hands over today to David Dinsmore, also 44, a former editor of The Scottish Sun.
Mohan must be relieved he was not the last editor of Britain's biggest selling red-top – a real fear among some staff who wonder whether the weight of scandal could force the paper to go the same way as the axed News of the World. Dark clouds still hang over The Sun with the trials of so many journalists to come this autumn.
In these circumstances, Mohan's big achievement was to launch The Sun on Sunday last year to fill the void left by the NotW's closure – a move to a seven-day operation that saved millions in costs. However, the replacement Sunday title lacks a distinctive voice and sells 800,000 less than the Saturday edition, the bestseller of the week on 2.6 million.
In many ways, Mohan's biggest problem has been confidence. When he took over in September 2009, there was a sense that predecessor Rebekah Brooks, then the chief executive, was in the driving seat when it came to decisions such as the "Labour's lost it" front page. The subsequent 2010 election – when The Sun's choice, David Cameron, failed to win outright – undermined the reputation of the paper "wot won it".
Mohan performed a slick U-turn when The Sun withdrew its support for the Tories last year by attacking the coalition's "toffs" but, as Rupert Murdoch's tweets showed, the proprietor was behind that decision.
Admirers say Mohan deserves credit for campaigns over issues like binge-drinking and petrol prices and witty front pages such as "Scrape Me Up Before You Go Go" after singer George Michael's motorway accident.
But critics say Mohan failed to find new columnists and the paper has been losing its touch. The crass "Maggie dead in bed at the Ritz" front page went down badly with the proprietor.
Those close to NI emphasise Dinsmore is a hard newsman in contrast to Mohan, a former editor of showbusiness column Bizarre. "Dins" has broader vision and business nous after a spell in management, say allies. They talk about how the paper has lost its mojo and "needs a kick". The new editor also appears to be more of a political animal, having impressed Murdoch by building relations with Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond.
Commercially, The Sun's recent history has been mixed. Print circulation has fallen by a quarter from 3.1 million in September 2009 to 2.3 million last month but Murdoch's decision to stop price-cutting and hike the weekday cover price from 20p to 40p mean circulation revenues have compensated. The Sun still makes handsome operating profits – some say £70m-£80m a year.
The big issue is the internet where Mohan's title has lagged far behind the Daily Mail, Guardian and Telegraph, even though The Sun has stayed free. Dinsmore's first task is to introduce an internet paywall in August, after personally leading NI's effort to buy up exclusive online television rights to Premier League football highlights.
The Glaswegian father of two is an imposing figure at 6'3". He smoked and drank in his younger days and jokes how he failed his shorthand exams several times. But now he is a teetotal fitness fan who cycles as much as 50 miles at weekends. It will be interesting to see if The Sun lifer decides to clean up Page 3, by dropping the topless pictures.
The shake-up comes as Murdoch splits his media empire this week, with television and movies in one company called 21st Century Fox and the weaker newspaper assets left in what has been dubbed new News Corporation.
As Dinsmore knows, it means The Sun will be more important in financial terms to new News Corp than it has been to old News Corp.
The new football season loses one of its big players
The timing of Ian Livingston's decision to resign as BT chief executive after five years to be a trade minister looks odd.
Livingston, was about to embark on a potentially career-defining battle with BSkyB, after buying up Premier League football rights and making a £1bn bet on pay-TV sport, yet he is walking away as the first season begins.
BT's evolution from telecoms giant to a media company is not new. BT has had a pay-TV business since before Livingston took charge. Alas the problem is it has not been very good, winning over only 800,000 customers in seven years. In that time, Sky, the market leader in pay-TV, has acquired over 4 million broadband subscribers.
Hence Livingston's gamble on BT becoming a broadcaster in its own right, rather than just being a TV platform for others. His thinking is that BT can use football to win broadband customers – even though Virgin Media, another rival to Sky, has successfully adopted a different strategy by ditching its own channels.
The City is surprisingly relaxed about Livingston's exit and seems happy with internal successor Gavin Patterson. BT shares are at their highest levels in six years.
But it is a shame that Livingston won't stick around to prove BT can succeed where Setanta, ESPN and ITV Digital all failed.
When an ad trade fair becomes a festival of creativity
A few years ago, the Cannes Lions advertising festival was renamed a festival of creativity. After spending the last few days at the trade fair, it makes sense.
Traditional 30-second television advertising feels old and quaint. All the talk is about "content" and "story-telling" that can be shared online.
The most acclaimed commercial work barely looked like ads. Dumb Ways To Die was a three-minute, musical animation film by Australian ad agency McCann that only mentioned its message, rail safety, at the end.
Ogilvy & Mather, the most awarded agency, also created two fascinating pieces of communication for IBM: one was a 90-second film called A Boy And His Atom, a stop-go animation using real-life atoms that were magnified for the screen. Another was an outdoor campaign that turned poster sites into branded benches, bus shelters and luggage ramps to show IBM's usefulness.
Paid-for media still matters. But the new opportunities in the mobile internet age are owned and earned media – that is brands creating their own content that can be shared and talked about for free.
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