The merger of the Daily and Sunday Mirrors, and departures of Richard Wallace and Tina Weaver, reduces pluralism in the media – as Lord Justice Leveson should note
On 16 January, the editor of the Daily Mirror gave evidence to Lord Justice Leveson. At that stage, Richard Wallace was admired by colleagues and rivals alike as one of Britain’s best tabloid leaders. On 30 May, however, Wallace and Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver were summoned to their managing director’s office and, seemingly out of the blue, told they were being made redundant. Clear your desks pronto: thank you and good morning. So much for the power of the press (episode 97). Submit your latest views about editorial freedom on a single sheet of A4 paper.
What’s another Trinity Mirror upheaval in Canary Wharf got to do with a solemn inquiry in the Strand? Just this: we assume media pluralism matters, but when one major Sunday paper is shoehorned into a seven-day routine – with many more jobs lost in the process– then that’s a matter for the Trinity board alone, for its outgoing and incoming chairmen, for its rapidly departing chief executive, for a national paper MD who may or may not be in charge at the end of next month.
It’s assumed that what the Mirrors say, who runs them, who jerks their strings, is none of our business. But it is of course, otherwise Leveson would take 10 minutes rather than 10 months.
There are board and business issues here, to be sure. Has the Mirror been well or badly run over the past 40 years? Circulation in April 1972: 4.3m. In April 1992 (before the rise of the internet): 2.9m. In April, 2012: 1.08m (7.57% down on 2011). It’s a miserable story of consistent drift (mirrored by a consistent collapse in Trinity’s share price, if not chief executive Sly Bailey’s pay packet). But there’s absolutely nothing in this latest, apparently leaderless cavorting that promises anything better.
The Sunday Mirror, which made the clearest gains (to 1.7m and beyond) when the News of the World closed, is back down at 1.09m because it got neither marketing backing nor a cover price to compete with Sunday’s new Sun (50p against £1 in current circumstances). The Mirror itself costs 45p, not the Sun‘s 30p. The People, whose erstwhile editor Lloyd Embley is suddenly the only supreme green eyeshade left standing, is down to 461,000, as opposed to 4.6m in 1972.
Will seven-day publication bring some magic revival? Forget it. It will probably reduce the staff of the two Mirrors to maybe 200 journalists, one-third of the Sun‘s seven-day regiment. It will merely accelerate decline, and do nothing to rescue a People drifting ever closer to oblivion.
In short, it is another botch of despair that has nothing to offer anyone involved, apart from a few more years of shrinking profits. Some yarns around town talk of a coup and surprise bids surrounding Wallace and Weaver. Really? Why wasn’t Trinity dancing for joy?
In the real world, even the reviled Rupert treats his editors better, and more loyally, than this. Even he believes in journalism rather than the offensive routine of cleared desks.
Leveson is looking, among other things, at the “culture” of the press. And a chaotic culture of management sows its own seeds of destruction.