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Mollifying the Daily Mail

09 Oct 2019  |  Raymond Snoddy 
Mollifying the Daily Mail

With DMGT the current frontrunner to buy the i, Raymond Snoddy wonders what impact adding a non-partisan newsbrand could have on its existing titles

By any standards the i newspaper has to be judged an unexpected, if modest success.

The Independent , which launched it nearly a decade ago as a stripped down version of itself, was seen as more than slightly crazy to launch a new print title in digital times.

It nearly failed before it found out that a fluffy, slightly upmarket version of the Metro was not what was required.

Much to everyone's surprise at the time, the potential market lay largely outside London from readers who actually wanted straight news told without any axe to grind and absolutely no fluff.

As editor-in chief Oliver Duff tells it, they discovered their "non-aligned" editorial policy by accident during the Scottish referendum. The paper thought it would be absurd for a bunch of journalists in London to tell the Scots how to vote.

From there it was an easy step to avoid backing anything in particular while providing The Opinion Matrix every day with competing views on a myriad of subjects.

It has led to robust factual coverage on the great issues of the day, such as this week's front page on the latest Brexit negotiations: "French and Irish unite to frustrate Johnson."

As attempts to find sustainable niches in the newspaper market at both national and regional level have quickly failed the i newspaper has somehow found a route not only to survival but also to profitability.

The Johnson Press purchase three years ago for £24 million was a rare triumph for the near fatally indebted group, given that profits this year are expected to be around £12 million.

Those profits will undoubtedly be the mid to long term saviour of the i , but unfortunately it is at the moment resting on the troubled remains of Johnson Press and the company's debt holders have put anything that moves up for sale.

The i will obviously find a buyer but will it find a good home, as the process of consolidation in the publishing industry rumbles on like a tumbrel to a difficult destination?

DMGT, publisher of the Daily Mail, is believed to be in pole position, and a deal would mean the i wouldn't have to move even across the corridor because it already rents from the Daily Mail.

But how well would the independent i sit amidst the stridently pro-Brexit Daily Mail?

Purists might sniff and talk of hypocrisy - a publisher telling readers different "truths" with different voices to serve its convenience and bottom line.

We had better get used to it because there will probably be a lot more of it in future as papers of different political hues huddle for comfort in the face of the economic storm.

The good news is that if DGMT ends up owning the i it would be totally commercially crazy for the company to turn the paper into a stripped down version of the Daily Mail.

The high levels of trust earned by both the paper and its website in the last PAMCo results would vanish overnight and with it the i's reason for existence.

The executives of DMGT are not crazy people and therefore it is extremely likely that under their ownership Duff will be allowed to get on with what he does well, and maybe - just maybe - the more measured approach of the i might leech backwards into the coverage of the Daily Mail, which many think has done little to prepare their readers for the economic realities of a no deal Brexit.

The worst and most shameful days of the Daily Mail, as in Enemies of the People judges, seem already over, but the paper has still a lesson to learn from the more balanced, and frankly better judged approach of the i.

There is already an obvious piece of evidence that the purchase of a newspaper group by one with a markedly different political persuasion can have a mollifying effect.

By any standards - apart from the successful extraction of dividends - the Daily Express under Richard Desmond, who backed UKIP, was close to a social disgrace.

Liz Gerard, former night editor of The Times, has chronicled how national newspapers from the right wing side of the argument have over the past five years helped to demonise migrants and the likely effect on the Brexit vote.

She has accused the Daily Express of "a history of hostility towards migrants" and backed her arguments with countless front pages of the "Migrant Numbers Out of Control" and "New Migrant Flood On Way" variety.

Come the purchase of the Daily Express Group by Reach, publishers of the Daily Mirror, and the tone is very different.

Gary Jones, the editor of the Daily Express appointed after the acquisition, told MPs he found the paper's approach both offensive and Islamophobic.

It would be crazy if Reach were to turn the Daily Express into anything but a conservative leaning newspaper in reflection of its readers' views - though under previous owners it veered all over the place.

But the nastiness of the past is gone and it has happened because of consolidation and ownership by a single publisher of titles maintaining a different political perspective.

Maybe purchase of the i by DMGT, if that is what finally happens, could have a similar impact in leading to more inclusive and realistic journalism from the Daily Mail.

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NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights on 9 Oct 2019
“> a publisher telling readers different "truths" with different voices to serve its convenience and bottom line.
An absolute gem of a phrase; one that encapsulates the nature of the news marketplace, and just how far news reporting has fallen from factual statement of what has happened in the world. The majority of newspapers are telling readers different 'truths' - The Guardian that it's all the fault of toxic men, The Telegraph that young people don't realise we won 2 world wars so Brexit is no bother, The Sun that Rebekah Vardy is to blame for our current predicament (and Raheem Sterling's tattoos are a disgrace), and so on*. It's only when we're presented with this kind of contradictory juxtaposition that it's clear how ridiculous it is.
Of course, for DMGT this "two truths" approach would appear to be the only practical strategy, because the audiences of the Mail and i are totally distinct. They aren't the same readersip, and they believe quite different things - and neither would accept the editorial output of the other title as acceptable.

*of course, online does it on a larger scale and in a more bespoke manner, from Breitbart to Buzzfeed etc...”