The Daily Mirror's scoop about John Prescott's affair with Tracey Temple has engendered a fair amount of misty-eyed nostalgia. We have been told that the once mighty Mirror roars again. Its glory days are invoked, and we are invited to believe they might return.
The paper presented the story well enough, though we should not forget that it was handed it on a plate by Ms Temple's disgruntled partner. On the day of publication, sales rose by 30,000. But, as every editor knows, scoops are quickly forgotten, and any circulation boost they might bring is short-lived.
There is a grimmer truth about the Daily Mirror, which is that its sales have been declining year by year, almost month by month, for nearly 40 years. Turning at random to my yellowing sheaf of old circulation figures, I see that in March 1980 the paper was still selling 3.6 million copies a day. (In its 1950s heyday it had exceeded five million.) By March 1986, its sales had declined to just under three million. Ten years later, the paper was selling almost two and a half million copies a day. In March this year, the Mirror's average daily sale was 1.63 million, about five per cent down on 12 months earlier.
Throughout this long period of decline the paper has changed proprietors and editors many times, dumbed down, and then gone upmarket before going down again. The best efforts of a generation of journalists have failed to stem the tide.
Sly Bailey, the chief executive of Trinity Mirror, has claimed that the rate of sales decline is slowing. Maybe, but more than 200,000 copies a day have been mislaid since the present editor, Richard Wallace, took over less than two years ago.
Let the person who knows how to stop this rot step forward. Of course, no one does. The sales of The Sun have also been inexorably falling, if less precipitately. The socio-economic classes C1, C2, D and E who make up the bulk of the Daily Mirror's (and The Sun's) readers are buying fewer newspapers, and declining in numbers. One romantically likes to think that enormous editorial investment might check the relentless fall in sales, but Trinity Mirror, with its eye inevitably on the bottom line, has been moving in the opposite direction, applying one cut after another. So it will go on.
Last Thursday, Sir Victor Blank presided over his last annual general meeting as chairman of Trinity Mirror. (Trinity Mirror was formed seven years ago out of the merger of Mirror Group Newspapers, which owned the national titles, and the successful regional group Trinity.) Sir Victor has been opposed to the sale of the Daily Mirror, and its frailer stablemates, the Sunday Mirror and The People, possibly because he has enjoyed cutting a dash as a quasi-national newspaper proprietor.
Whether his successor, Sir Ian Gibson, will fall victim to the same temptations remain to be seen. The bleak truth is that the Daily Mirror and its sister titles are declining assets. Their profitability can only be maintained by cost-cutting, every round of which further weakens the titles. Circulation continues to fall, and so another spate of cost cutting has to take place. The process is being intensified as a result of the sharp decline in advertising revenue, which most newspapers, and the red-top tabloids in particular, are experiencing. The advertising revenue of Trinity Mirror's three national titles slipped 15.7 per cent in the first four months of the year. If, as some believe, this general decline in income is irreversible, reflecting the flight of advertising to the internet, the Daily Mirror's long-term prospects become darker still.
Would anyone still pay good money for it? Yes, because there is always someone who thinks he can find unexamined cost savings, and at the same time buck the downward trend of red-top sales. David Montgomery, a former chief executive of Mirror Group Newspapers, is said to be stalking British newspapers with Mecom, his new investment vehicle, and he might pounce. The German conglomerate Axel Springer, which eyed up the Mirror titles in 1998, might be interested, though I wonder whether it wants to enter this particular bear-pit. There will be other suitors, but the longer that Sir Ian and his board wait, the fewer they will be in number, and, as the months and years pass, they will be prepared to pay less and less.
Royal spin needs to be consistent
Last Wednesday's tabloids offered a trip down memory lane. The Daily Express, The Sun, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail all carried paparazzi photographs of Prince William and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, who were on holiday in the West Indian island of Mustique. The Express, perhaps thinking of its wallet, limited itself to a picture of a fetching, bikini-clad Kate on its front page; the other papers used their front pages and devoted space inside. Prince William was shown jumping into the sea, while Kate was pictured in various poses.
Without doubt these photographs broke the Press Complaints Commission's code of conduct, which prohibits shots of people in private. The pair were on private property, and these photographs were taken by an uninvited paparazzo with a telephoto lens.
And yet at the time of writing the Press Complaints Commission has received no complaint from either Buckingham Palace or Clarence House, and I don't expect it will. My supposition is that some or all of these newspapers were given the nod by royal spin doctors that publication would not occasion a complaint.
The explanation must be that, although the privacy of the Prince and his girlfriend has been infringed, the photographs were judged by royal advisers to show them in a very good light. This is certainly true. Ms Middleton, as I have said, looks very attractive, and Prince William by no means lets the side down, despite rather baggy and brightly coloured swimming trunks, for which he was teased by the Mail.
One can understand the response of royal spin doctors. For all I know they may be trying to prepare us for a royal engagement. Yet there is an obvious danger in allowing newspapers to publish paparazzi photographs that break the PCC's code. The next time they do so, they may carry less flattering pictures of members of the Royal Family. Newspapers will then be able to argue that any complaint to the PCC from Buckingham Palace or Clarence House is undermined by blatant inconsistency.
The right-wing press will hold fire - for now
Two weeks ago, I suggested that relations between David Cameron and the Tory press, in particular The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, were not as sunny as they might be. There was a degree of suppressed anger that might erupt if the Tories did badly in the local elections on 4 May. Though it could hardly be said that the Conservatives ran a brilliant campaign, they are judged to have done pretty well, helped in part by New Labour's various scandals and cock-ups. They may even be on a roll. In the Commons and in Fleet Street, suspicious Tories will sheathe their stilettos, at least for the time being, while they ask themselves whether Mr Cameron may not be one of those happy leaders who attract good luck.Reuse content