On Tuesday April 16 the Daily Mirror was reborn. The previous masthead, The Mirror, was abandoned and the famous name re-appeared after an absence of four years. Not only that but the paper's editor, Piers Morgan, re-introduced the Cassandra column, once the preserve of its outstanding founding writer, Bill – Sir William as he became – Connor who died in 1967. Here, Morgan describes why he chose to turn back the clock in search of the paper's glory days...
No short cuts, Lady O'Neill 3
Julia Langdon - Is the bell tolling for the weeklies? 7
Trevor Kavanagh - Don't be fooled by this death 14
Piers Morgan - ...As Hugh Cudlipp said... 19
Bill Hagerty - Hold on to The Front Page 31
Steven Barnett - A licence for future media power 41
Sondra Rubenstein - Brutal reality challenges media academics 46
Don Berry - Life with and without Harry 53
Brian Winston - Prince Charles got it wrong 58
Jake Lynch - Performing with headlines in mind 63
BOOK REVIEWSBrenda Maddox on Sue MacGregor 69
Ian Aitken on Francis Wheen 73
Robin Lustig on journalism and modern politics 76
“We were really trying to do something. Nobody was quite sure what, but we were definitely
trying to do something.”
Those were the words of Hugh Cudlipp shortly before he died, speaking about his time running the Daily Mirror. Amid all the comparisons today's Daily Mirror is getting with the Cudlipp era, this stands out to me as perhaps the most apposite. For we are definitely trying to do something too. And like Hugh, I'm not entirely sure what it is.
Newsrooms are great barometers for whether a newspaper is alive or dead. I've been fortunate to have operated in some of the liveliest. Working at The Sun for five years under Kelvin MacKenzie was like stumbling into a scene from Mad Max, with a liberal daily dash of Monty Python, Benny Hill and Apocalypse Now. It was anarchic, dangerous, hilarious and by today's standards utterly contemptible. Which is of course why it sold so many papers – and smashed the Daily Mirror into an orbit of virtually irrelevant unreadable oblivion. When I went to edit the News of the World, I was 28 and considerably more familiar with the machinations of a David Bowie album than the biggest selling newspaper in Europe. Kelvin gave me two simple bits of advice: “Don't get pissed in the week, you can't edit on a hangover” and “If you're in the s***, get out of it at a million miles an hour.” Then he cackled uncontrollably at the absurdity of my appointment.
I got very lucky. Four weeks after I started, the Chief of Defence Staff quit over our allegations of an illicit affair with the wonderful Bienvenida Buck. For the next year, scoops rained down on us like a weekly dose of tabloid manna from the Gods. Alan Clark and his judge's coven, Princess Diana and Hewitt, Princess Diana and those very odd phone calls to Oliver Hoare, Princess Diana and Will Carling, Mellor at it again...
It was non-stop mayhem and carnage. And the newsroom buzzed like a football crowd when the home side scores a dubious last minute winning penalty – we all knew we were being a bit naughty but it felt great. Intoxicated with the awards and sales success that came our way, my ego began to write cheques my pitifully unfit journalistic torso was then miserably unable to cash. I gave up the rampaging NoW for the rotting dismembered carcass of the stricken Daily Mirror – convinced that turning it round would be a piece of cake. Well, it turned out to a much more indigestible little number than I'd predicted. My early strategy of trying to out-Sun The Sun was not a brilliant success. In fact it was virtually a total disaster, culminating in “Achtung Surrender” and enough opprobrium to wilt a forest of oak trees.
SubstanceMirror readers didn't really hanker for the buckets of trashy, racy, celeb-driven scandal sleaze I was serving up. They wanted more substance. They wanted hard news, authoritative comment, strong features – and above all a loud, coherent, campaigning, radical and attitudinal voice. It wasn't that they were boring or that they were disinterested in celebrities. They just wanted their Mirror to put those things into perspective and not bill them constantly as the most important thing of the day.
Now this might sound like I'd just woken up, smelt the cappucino, and won the Award for the Oustandingly Bleeding Obvious. But it's not quite as straightforward as it seems. For example, my best selling front page throughout this period was a video grab from EastEnders of Ian Beale being shot. Circulation rocketed by more than 100,000 copies. Anything remotely heavy or political and the sale collapsed. Yet I realised over time that the trivial stuff, while selling well on the day, was eroding loyal readers in the longer term.
What the Mirror needed was something dramatic to happen to allow us to reposition ourselves as a more serious popular paper – without the nagging fear that sales would fall irreparably in the meantime. It sounds almost Jo Moore-like to say that the events of September 11 gave us that opportunity. But it's undeniably true that this cataclysmic event provided my staff and I with a unique chance to change the Mirror's brand of journalism significantly and permanently. We led on the War on Terror for over 50 days, deploying the largest number of journalists abroad of any UK newspaper, and devoting the most space inside to the extraordinary daily events. We broke great scoops, filed great reportage, took amazing pictures and brought this unbelievable international story to our readers in a dramatic, vivid and believable way.
Perhaps more importantly, we made the paper credible again. We released ourselves from the political shackles of New Labour by repeatedly questioning their war strategy, prodding and probing, haranguing where necesssary. If we didn't agree with Tony Blair, we screamed so all over Page One. Alastair Campbell was not amused. Which in itself was amusing. He, of course, had run the Mirror's political coverage in an era where the sheer scale of its sycophancy to Labour made Pravda look critical. To Alastair, our questions were offensive and “off-message.” We were being “disloyal” to the cause. But the truth is that the Mirror should have been “off-message” and “disloyal” years ago.
Supporting Labour in opposition is one thing, but carrying on the almost evangelical arse-licking when they're running the country is totally self-defeating. It had got to the stage where whatever we wrote about Labour was perceived as spoon-fed propaganda from Downing Street. Nobody paid any attention to us, nobody cared what we had to say. And it had been like this for two decades.
In July, 1984, Hugh Cudlipp said:
“Mirror newspapers are now rarely mentioned in any significant sense; even more rarely quoted. The Daily Mirror must and can regain its position among the world's most quoted and influential newspapers in its own spheres. Popularity isn't enough.”
One thing's for sure – people listen to us now. And people care what we say. The Daily Mirror matters again. And when we support the Government on an issue these days, it carries weight and significance because everybody knows we give them a good kicking most of the time. The relationship is better for Labour, and better for the Mirror.
By March of this year, the revolution sparked by September 11 had become an evolution.The paper was demonstrably different to its traditional rivals The Sun and Star. We had become a more serious paper. And in the process had not only won a hatful of awards but also enjoyed our most stable circulation for 30 years. It seemed the perfect time to relaunch ourselves officially.
Most papers relaunch from a position of weakness – that's why they're relaunching. We have relaunched from an obvious position of strength, having just won Newspaper of the Year twice and with sales as stable as they've been for a decade. Even The Times, not exactly an impartial observer in the Sun-Mirror conflict, published a chart recently showing that we had closed the gap with The Sun by 250,000 copies a day since 1997.
Our sale is still declining, but only just. And our rival is in apparent freefall as it stumbles between all-out trivia about rubber ducks in the Queen's bath to worthy leaders on Islam, ridding the world of all known diseases, and being really nice to everyone rather than really beastly. The Mirror's relaunch was a confirmation of all we had done since September 11. It was a defining statement of intent. The dropping of the red masthead, and reintroduction of the “Daily” symbolised the seismic shift in the paper's positioning.
LeaderWe've created a new marketplace. Of one paper. Which has the joyous benefit of ensuring we are automatically the market leader. We no longer worry about what other papers are doing. We only worry about what WE are doing. Our extensive research, for too long sneered at by journalists as the enemy but now in my view a valuable weapon in the fight to stave off decline, produced some startling facts.
For example if we could persuade a Mirror reader who doesn't currently buy the paper every day to buy it just ONCE more over a three week period, we would add an incredible 250,000 to our ABC sale.
What also shone through from talking to a wide cross-section of our readers was that they really care passionately about their Daily Mirror. We are part of their life, in some cases for nearly 100 years. They view me rightly as a mere custodian of THEIR Mirror. And woe betide me if I betray that position of power and trust.
It was also very clear that we had moved far too slowly in embracing the way our readers' lives have changed. Many of them now own cars and hous-es, computers and DVDs, and enjoy foreign holidays in places as far flung as Thailand and Australia. They like dining out and drinking nice wine. In short, the new working class has nudged ever closer to what their parents would have deemed the middle class back in the Sixties.
It's been one of the most dramatic social shifts in history, but the Daily Mirror – along with most papers – has to be honest just sat back and watched it happen. In the last year we've tried to catch up. We targeted young feisty career women in particular, aware that they were now buying papers in massively larger numbers than their mothers' generation. We launched M magazine, and various M section spin offs. We even brought in Mandy Capp, a mischievous ladette daughter of miserable old Andy.
But the bedrock of the new Daily Mirror is going to be great writing and great reporting. We have signed up such Fleet Street luminaries as Christopher Hitchens, Jonathan Freedland, John Pilger, Miranda Sawyer, Jim Shelley, Matthew Norman and Oliver Holt. They join our already outstanding team of columnists including Tony Parsons, Jonathan Ross, Victor Lewis-Smith, Brian Reade, Sue Carroll and Paul Routledge. And we've brought back a rejuvenated Cassandra to give younger readers a modern version of the greatest tabloid column of them all.
Rivals mock what they mistakenly see as the Mirror “playing serious.” But we are running their stuff, clearing spreads for their opinion. The readers love it, and so do the staff. Because it's intelligent and creative and stimulating. It's why they came into journalism in the first place. At the recent British Press Awards, I was approached by a number of former Daily Mirror legends – most of whom had been pretty critical of my early attempts to carry the torch of this great institution. They all seemed much happier with what we were doing, but it was Keith Waterhouse who summed it up best. “You and your staff are having a lot of fun aren't you?,” he laughed. And he's right, we are.
A little later Lady Jodi Cudlipp took me aside and said she loved what the new Daily Mirror was doing, and thought Hugh would have done too. That was a particularly memorable moment in a memorable few months. Hugh Cudlipp said of his time on the Daily Mirror:
“God, it was fun. So far as journalism was concerned I didn't do a stroke of work in my life. It was a pleasurable mental exercise. I was paid frugally at first and sumptuously later on, but was always surprised I was paid at all for the editorial side of my activities: what for – enjoying myself and informing and entertaining others? Who would mind working around the clock if every day is punctuated by the impulse of events, when the only routine is the exceptional and the unexpected, and when the norm is the abnormal?”
For nearly seven years I've had the unbelievable honour and pleasure to edit Britain's most famous newspaper. There have been plenty of ups and downs, glories and gaffes, on the road to our current success. And there's no doubt that we're taking a bit of a gamble with the dropping of the red-top and the more serious approach. But life's just more fun if you gamble. And I think we're gambling on producing a newspaper that can finally live up to the legend that is the Daily Mirror.