The Media Column: The naked truth about the 'new' Daily Mirror

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The Independent Online

It could be me. Probably is. There's the media world, out on the street admiring the Daily Mirror's extraordinary serious new clothes, and all I can see is Piers Morgan's journalistic bare bum. Yes, he's painted John Pilger's lugubrious features on one cheek and daubed Troops Out of Wherever on the other, but it's the same old arse. I look beyond the reborn Daily Mirror's black-and-white masthead, and feel the sense of disappointment I get when watching a movie that is supposed to be seminal and is revolutionising cinematic art – Gladiator, for instance – and it turns out to have a silly, childish plot and ridiculous acting. Six months on, you've forgotten it.

It is true that, before 11 September, the red-top papers had become so trivial that they no longer inhabited the same universe as even their mid-range rivals. This time last year, a Mirror exclusive would consist of some piece of information concerning the love-life of a Swansea blonde, who just happened to be on a TV show that most people in Britain hadn't watched. Then came the twin towers and the Mirror editor Piers Morgan's well-publicised conversion. On the back of a few features and a couple of front pages that didn't deal with Helen's reaction to the disaster, Morgan won just about every journalism award going.

Then, last week, came the revamp proper. New columnists have been brought in part-time from The Guardian (which has taken an admirably relaxed line on its people working for a daily rival), and the number of pages dealing with non-celeb twaddle has increased. And yet, when you look at the product, there is something unconvincing about all this, something inorganic about the whole enterprise.

It's not just that, in relaunch week, the Daily Mirror somehow got wind of the News Of The World's exclusive about Sven and Ulrika, and had to give it more space than it would have accorded a Pakistani atom-bomb attack on Delhi. Or that one photo of a Swedish celeb took up more room than all of its coverage of the French presidential elections. Or that the paper's best-promoted feature is the 3am celebrity gossip-columnists, of whom it is breathlessly written: "The girls revealed that Jamie Theakston and Joely Richardson had become an item ... exposed Jordan and Dwight Yorke's antics in Cannes ... and Mel C's revelation she was on antidepressants." Exposing a revelation is good going. Next week, the Gospel.

No, the difficulty is that to match tabloid simplicity to the serious news agenda requires a consistent populism. This, as we know from the brand leader, the Daily Mail, has to permeate almost the whole newspaper, save for the lifestyle sections.

For the right, this is not so hard. The Mail basks in anti-modernity, regretting what is passing and resisting what is new. It is the moaner's almanac, and brilliant at it. But of what is Mirror left-wing populism to consist? Troops out of Afghanistan was almost suggested last week. But to campaign for that, you'd have to argue that their mission was wrong – that, morally, we shouldn't be fighting al-Qa'ida. This is a hard row to hoe, so the Daily Mirror simply ends up arguing that the Government should set "a date for withdrawal now". Wow.

On day one of the revamp, before the Swedes hijacked the news agenda, the Daily Mirror's front-page story concerned the latest Bin Laden video, linked to a report and a headline that suggested – with Pilgeresque detonation – that the whole Allied military campaign had been a waste of time. Inside, however, was The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland, explaining with his usual intelligence, that actually we hadn't the faintest idea when the video had been shot and what it all meant. Either he was right or the Mirror was right. Over on the Mail, that copy would have been spiked. Because Dacre knows what kind of a populist he is, and Morgan doesn't. It's not, when it comes down to it, what Piers is really interested in. So where The Mirror recently talked bollocks about trivial issues, the Daily Mirror now talks bollocks about serious ones.