If readers of the Daily Mirror spluttered over their maize-based breakfast cereals as they turned to page three this morning, then the editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley will have done his job.
The picture stunt – which is not, on closer inspection, a Sun-style Page Three image – is intended to provoke a double-take and remind Mirror readers of the differences between their paper and its red-top rivals.
It is tied to the #Madeuthink advertising campaign, the Mirror’s biggest brand promotion in ten years, linked to a redesign of the daily paper and its Sunday sister title which took place at the weekend.
“It’s a visual way of illustrating the point that we think we are not quite the same as the other tabloids,” Embley tells me. “The difference between the Mirror, the Star and The Sun is not exclusively down to Page Three – but it’s a significant difference. We haven’t carried topless women – we never have done – and now more than ever I can’t see that it’s appropriate, certainly for this newspaper.”
Embley has been group editor-in-chief at Trinity Mirror for a year (and editing the two Mirror titles for nearly 18 months). He has improved its fortunes.
Suddenly the Mirror versus The Sun seems like a more even contest than it has in years – even if the Murdoch title undercuts by 10p on cover price. News UK’s decision to put The Sun behind an online paywall on 1 August has delivered a great fillip to the Mirror’s websites, which saw daily traffic increase by 19.65 per cent last month. In print, the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror both recorded small monthly increases in August, while the circulations of The Sun and The Sun on Sunday both declined.
The weekend’s design change is a delicate balancing act intended to position the Mirror upmarket of its sector rivals – but retaining its tabloid zest. This is about sharpening the identity of a title that wants to be taken more seriously. “Inherently, those of us that work at the Mirror know what it is that makes us different from the other tabloids but what we have not done particularly well is articulate that,” the editor-in-chief admits. His papers have a “social conscience” and give due weight to “big, heavy news stories” but do not mislay their sense of humour.
There is another more basic reason for the changes: literally to help people to read the paper since some Mirror readers find a bright and busy page layout indecipherable.
“We’ve had a growing number of comments from readers that they find the paper hard to read – the body type, the crossword clues, the racing card, the sports pages with the bright colours everywhere,” Embley says. “So we have tried to address that with more conventional body type and a more muted colour palette that will still keep the energy of a tabloid.”
Listening to readers makes sense. Hopefully, they will repay him by supporting a laudable commitment to “proper news”. But it is a gamble in a cut-throat popular media market where, internet traffic tells us, celebrity gossip often wins.
Over at News UK, The Sun has also been displaying its caring side of late. Its new editor, David Dinsmore, seems to be moving the title into a more family-friendly space. He is currently campaigning to save the military dogs – “hero hounds” – put down by the Ministry of Defence. Friday’s Page Three girl kept her T-shirt on and promoted Jeans for Genes Day, a charity to help children with genetic disorders. We may not have a new system of press regulation, but this is the post-Leveson era and the tabloids are treading carefully.
But The Sun still bares its fangs over the subject of the Mirror. Tony Parsons, who joined The Sun on Sunday this month after 18 years as a Mirror columnist, has already partly repaid his fee by describing his old paper as “dying” and melodramatically backing The Sun’s paywall by saying: “I don’t see how I can support my family if the people I work for keep giving away their product for free.” His new employers are delighted.
News UK bosses say they are convinced that Sun digital features such as its Premier League goals app will drive online subscriptions. A new editor, Victoria Newton, has been appointed to the relaunched Sun on Sunday. As the company prepares to move to new London premises near the Shard next year, its biggest-selling paper has “got its mojo back”, as one exec puts it.
The truth is that neither the Mirror nor The Sun can look to a new dawn. Irrespective of the merits of either of their different digital strategies, and whether their refreshes and relaunches please the eyes of their readers, Britain’s two biggest tabloids face a turbulent future. The storm clouds heading from the direction of New Scotland Yard will see to that.
WikiLeaks gets its retaliation in first
Isuppose it was inevitable there would be leaks of the WikiLeaks film The Fifth Estate, with the website angrily publishing what it claims is a “mature” version of the screenplay while complaining that “most of the events depicted never happened”.
The WikiLeaks version gives an amusing insight into how the film-makers styled the senior figures at The Guardian, who star in the opening scene.
It’s close to midnight inside the paper’s “looming modern structure, steel and glass” and there is “a low buzz, a hustle of activity, journalists swirling”. The camera focuses on two men. “REPORTER NICK DAVIES, 50s, handsome, hustles along with RUMPLED EDITOR ALAN RUSBRIDGER, 50s. Alan’s on a Blackberry.” So much hustling!
Davies is played by David Thewlis, while Peter Capaldi is Rusbridger. Ian Katz, his deputy before he moved to Newsnight, is not described as handsome (only “40s”) although he is played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens.
Rusbridger is “as agitated as he gets” over delays in publishing the leaked Afghan war logs; and then, later, “blanches” as he considers whether he might be indicted under the Espionage Act.
As the relationship with Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) goes sour, Rusbridger turns to Davies and says, “Sorry, wasn’t he your messiah?” Assange has “feet of clay”, comes the reply. And Katz is depicted as chipping in: “So he’s a liar, a callous little zealot … like every other oddball source.” Davies muses: “He’s not a source. He’s a reckless, irresponsible head of a huge media empire that’s accountable to no one. And we put him there.”
All very entertaining but the audience is surely sold short by the absence of Guardian veteran investigative reporter David Leigh, who has been written out of the script. With his trademark popped collar, Leigh would have suited the script – although Walter Matthau is no longer around to play the role.