Magazine article The Spectator

You Read It Here First: The Daily Mirror Will Be Sold within Six Months

Magazine article The Spectator

You Read It Here First: The Daily Mirror Will Be Sold within Six Months

Article excerpt

MEDIA STUDIES

Is the Daily Mirror for sale? It is, according to a well-placed City source. He says it is being offered around to `the buy-out boys'. My instinct is that he is right, and that Trinity Mirror wants to offload its troubled national daily, as well as its other national titles.

Until 1999 Trinity Mirror was Trinity, a strong group publishing profitable regional titles. Then it made what has turned out to be the serious mistake of buying Mirror Group Newspapers. For although Trinity had plenty of experience with regionals such as the Birmingham Post and the Liverpool Echo, it knew little or nothing about the very different business of publishing red-top national newspapers. In Sir Victor Blank it acquired a chairman who, though he had been a successful merchant banker, was ignorant of the newspaper business. This might not have mattered had not the company's long-term chief executive, Philip Graf, been equally at sea in the world of national newspapers. The consequence was that both men found themselves relying on Piers Morgan, the Daily Mirror's editor, more than was strictly prudent.

Matters came to a head in March when the Daily Mirror relaunched itself as a more upmarket title with a 20 million promotional budget. The paper's 1950s heyday under the direction of Hugh Cudlipp was giddily invoked. But although the move was cheered by some observers, it found little favour with the punters. Despite a reduced cover price, the paper lost sales even more quickly than it had previously. Circulation is now down by 5 per cent over the year. When last month Mr Graf announced that he intended to leave the paper next year, it was generally assumed that his scalp had been taken. Matters turned to farce when a new finance director was hired and then fired before he had even joined the company.

Not surprisingly, Trinity Mirror's share price has been languishing. Of course, these are difficult times for all newspaper publishers because of the slump in advertising revenue. But the market has perceived that Trinity has particular problems, and some people have been asking whether it is capable of running a stable of national newspapers, all of which happen to be in long-term decline. It has not escaped their notice that the company's regional titles have been faring a great deal better. One big American shareholder, Tweedy Browne, has called for a break-up. Other American investors are said to be upset by the Daily Mirror's increasingly strident opposition to a second Gulf war, and the anti-American rhetoric which flows from the likes of John Pilger. None of this has gone down well at No. 10 either.

This is the backdrop to the reported hawking around of the national titles in the City. Their sale may not be made any easier by Trinity Mirror's announcement earlier this week that for the fourth time in three years it will have to boost payments to its staff pension scheme, thereby eating into its already dwindling profits. But I would think that, notwithstanding all their problems, there would be eager takers for the Daily Mirror and its sister titles. Who might they be? One name being bandied about is that of Richard Desmond, the pornographer who owns Express Newspapers. Since he supports New Labour, his stewardship of the Mirror papers would suit the government. On the other hand, it is very difficult to see how he could be allowed to own them under existing competition rules. The same applies to the other national newspaper groups which may be eyeing up the titles. …

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