Category Archives: Media

The Red Tops

“News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” —Lord Northcliffe

The story of the Daily Mirror begins in 1903 in Fetter Lane, Fleet Street, London, EC4 at Geraldine House (named after Northcliffe’s mother). To this date Alfred Harmsworth had known only success. He had bought the Evening News in 1894 and it was making money. He had created the Daily Mail and it had expanding profits. The Daily Mirror was an historic mistake.

“I advertised it everywhere,” said Harmsworth,”…if there was anyone not aware that the Mirror was to be started they must have been deaf, dumb, blind or all three.” And so on Monday November 2 the paper ‘produced by women for women’—the Mirror went on sale for 1d.

Its aim was to “present in new ways; cookery, fashion…”. It aimed to be entertaining but not frivolous, serious but not dull. Later said he was wrong in launching “so mad a frolic as a paper for ladies.” The first issue sold 265,217 copies, the second 143,000 and the third less than 100,000. After 3 months the circulation was down to 24,000 and Harmsworth said that he had learned that “women can’t write and don’t know how to read.”

The Sun began life as the Daily Herald. The International Publishing Corporation acquired the paper when they bought a number of profitable publications from Odhams Press in 1961. It was a socialist newspaper tied to the Trades Union Congress and had been the country’s biggest selling daily in the 1930s. When IPC got it was rather puzzled about what to do with it. They already owned the Mirror and did not want to run in competition with it but the had a commitment to the TUC to keep it running for seven years.

To cut their losses in 1964 IPC relaunched the Daily Herald as the Sun, the broadsheet ‘born of the age we live in’. Its circulation fell from 1.5 million to 850,000 by the spring of 1969. IPC decided to sell. Robert Maxwell, who had already lost the News of the World to Murdoch, offered to take the paper from IPC and keep it running but after his job cut plans were announced IPC was threatened with union action against the Mirror. Needless to say that Rupert Murdoch jumped in and bought it.

Back at the Mirror in the early 1900s there was about to be a change of staff. Northcliffe sent for Hamilton Fyfe who became editor, succeeded by Alexander Kennedy in 1907. “To Fyfe fell the distasteful task of sacking the women, and the rape of the Sabines wasn’t in it. ‘They begged to be allowed to stay,’ he recalled. ‘They left little presents on my desk. The waylaid me tearfully in corridors. It was a horrible experience, like drowning kittens.'”†

The paper was revamped and the use of pictures made a real impact in its sales as did the cut in price to a half penny. From here on things improved remarkably. By 1906 the Mirror staked claim to be “The morning journal with the second largest net sale”

Northcliffe sold the paper to his brother Harold (later Lord Rothermere) for £100,000, apparently the loss he had made on the paper originally. On 18 November 1949 the paper printed “Latest certified circulation more than 1,000,000 copies per day.” By 1918, “Certified Circulation larger than that of any other daily picture paper.”

February 3, 1921 and the Daily Mirror is the first to get pictures back from Australia of the Cricket test series. January 23, 1924 — Ramsay MacDonald leads the Labour Government and the Mirror leads with “Socialists Take Over the Government.” It is now 1926 and the Mirror continues to print through the general strike. June 29, 1927, the Daily Mirror leads with photographs of a total eclipse of the sun [Murdoch later hoped that the Sun would totally eclipse the Mirror]. And so the Mirror continued under Rothermere and later Bartholomew. It had achieved a circulation of over 7 million with its coronation day issue but its real peak came in the late 1960s, just as Murdoch turned the Sun into a tabloid.

Murdoch hired Larry Lamb to be the editor. He was working on the Daily Mail at the time but he had only recently moved from the Mirror. After the relaunch sales reached one million within 100 days. IPC had mad a fatal mistake. They had failed to see the market and then given it away. Indeed in 1978 sales of the Sun finally overtook those of the Mirror.

There was at this time a distinct difference between the Sun and the Mirror which is much less evident today. The Daily Mirror had been ‘the’ paper to work for, having the highest circulation and some of the most notable journalists on its staff. You might even say that it had become a paper ‘run for journalists by journalists’. Its alumni of columnist include; Godfrey Winn (1936-1938), Cassandra (William Connor, 1937 until his death in 1967), Peter Wilson (1935-1972), John Pilger (1962-1986) and Keith Waterhouse (1970-1985).

The Mirror was the quality tabloid. It lost readers because of the fact, but it had a ‘mission’. “Forward with the people” had been its motto and it had tried to bring culture to the average reader in an easy and understandable form in the ’60s in the shape of Mirror-Scope. It was a total failure but it illustrated the Daily Mirror’s commitment to do more for its readers.

The biggest change came in 1984 when Robert Maxwell bought Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN). Until now there had been a difference in style between the two papers. In 1982 the Sun would lead with the ‘GOTCHA’ headline on the sinking of the Belgrano. This simply would not happen at the Mirror. The Maxwell take-over saw the war heating up. Bingo was introduced but more than ever the two papers could be seen to be alike in the respect that they were both reduced on many occasion to being voices for their proprietors. This was not to change at the Mirror until Maxwell’s death. However the similarities are still there.

I would like to end with a comparison of Monday’s 29 November 1994’s copies of the Daily Mirror and the Sun. The Daily Mirror is about an inch taller than the Sun but apart from that it is difficult to see their differences. They both have a bright red and white banner. They both have an ‘Aladdin’ offer.

The Daily Mirror’s Headline is “MAJOR’S LIES PUT PEACE IN PERIL”, the Sun’s is “HYPOCRITE! Two days after IRA killed my son Major talked peace to them” The Sun has the more grabbing angle but they both condemn John Major.

Page two reveals the political slant to some extent where the Sun is more lenient on Kenneth Clarke’s tax plans than the Daily Mirror. Page three of the Daily Mirror is about Madonna with another article on ‘Di’

Page four and five carry the ‘exclusives’. The Sun on Major’s lies and the Daily Mirror on Peter Lilley’s niece, an unwed mum.

Page six carries the comment. This is where political bias is usually most evident.

The layout and content are startlingly similar, so much so that a foreigner unfamiliar with British politics would find it hard to judge which paper was supposed to appeal to which audience. Perhaps this is because they both seek to appeal to the same audience – the working man. The Daily Mirror reader is more likely to belong to a union and vote Labour but a recent ICM poll found that a surprising 36 per cent of Sun readership claimed to have voted Labour at the last election.

sales (millions)
Daily Mirror
sales (millions)

Source: Audit Bureau of Circulation. Average daily sales over a six-month period ending 31 December of each year unless otherwise stated.

Latest Circulation Figures:Sun – 3.78, Daily Mirror – 3.32
Note – the Mirror figure is incorporating Daily Record.

† Publish and be Damned!, Hugh Cudlip, 1953.

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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Media


Profile: John Birt

Despite what many would consider a liberal background at LWT, when John Birt became Director General of the BBC people realised he was there to put the Government’s proposals into action.

In the 1980s Thatcher, angry about coverage of her government, had intended to scrap the license fee, make the BBC carry advertising and effectively privatise it. Fortunately this did not happen but her complaints; that there was not enough choice, that pay was excessive, that the trade unions had the BBC in a vice-like grip, and that news and current affairs coverage was anti-government were effectively incorporated into the BBC’s Charter when it came up for renewal. It was Birt who would do the streamlining.

In 1989 Birt was promoted from Deputy Director General to the top position. Change came quickly. He stripped down the organisation, merging the News and Current Affairs operations to a great degree and putting Documentary and Current Affairs in one building. To help justify this he brought in a series of consultants. This cut the amount of money available for ‘minor things’ like floats to virtually nothing.

Birt introduced the concept of ENG (Electronic News Gathering) into regional news. The idea, borrowed from north America, is that a news crew consists of two people. One is the cameraman, who also does sound, lighting, driving, and sometimes editing. The other is the reporter who also does the directing, research, and the job of the Production Assistant.

The BBC had been a vertical organisation with jobs for life in a duopoly with ITV. But, just as Thatcher had hoped, Birt smashed the unions. Ideas such as ENG which merged jobs were dubbed ‘multi-skilling’, but they amounted to de-skilling. The days of 3-month paid holidays ensured by BECTU (the broadcasting technician’s union) were over. Massive redundancies followed and it was also the end of internal training so now the employee has to pay.

With the renewal of its charter the BBC had to commission 25% of its programmes from independent producers. Birt pushed for far greater reliance than the charter requirement. He also made BBC an internal market. The ‘internal market’, where everything is priced and producers are given a budget has proved virtually unworkable. There was also a levy known as the “John Birt Tariff” of 20% to pay for consultants (such as John Birt as it later emerged). Producers who had spent their lives working at the BBC had never had to do costing before. This was a disastrous mistake which is only now beginning to be undone.

Due to the reliance on independent companies the BBC now buys many of its programmes from the ITV companies who are busy swallowing each other whole. At the other extreme stars have their own production companies which must be employed to get the star in front of a camera. For instance, if you want Lenny Henry to do a show, you have to hire his production company too. This means stars can dictate programming to a degree.

When Birt was promoted from Deputy DG to DG in 1989 he was faced with revenue problems due to the low license fee (which is not linked to inflation), and facing the prospect of having to re-equip every three years he decided that the BBC would focus on what he called “distinctive programming” to justify the continuation of the license fee.

Birt was about instituting authoritarianism on the BBC because of past programmes that had been critical of government and because it represented a large, public, high-cost, bureaucratic organisation that could not easily be privatised. He was determined to do something about “radical” programmes such as ‘Panorama’. Birt’s hopes to streamline the BBC made it amorphous. It was no longer financially inefficient but it stifled creativity. It was broken up into different department heads who made programmes but didn’t broadcast them.

The main drive of Birt’s changes came in factual programming. It was summarised by the ‘mission to explain’. In practical terms Birt aimed to remove the divide between the TV and radio branches of the news organisation. Birt thought the BBC didn’t explain enough about what was going on in the world. The emphasis was placed on being less populist than World in Action (to be “distinctive”). Current Affairs programmes were more analytical, often backgrounders to a news story. They were inevitably boring. As Panorama became less investigative it also became less challenging to do. The reasoning was to differentiate from ITV with Weekend World, On The Record, Public Eye, the return of Costume Drama.

The argument was “Current Affairs is emotive but has no context or background.” Birt went on to make the BBC’s current affairs all the same. Worse than that, the structure was set up before filming. With a pre-shooting script you are supposed to know what your interviewees are going to say before you interview them. This saves money but journalism it is not.

The other bone that caught in the throat of journalists was the emphasis on “good news” that was probably responsible for putting the Queen’s speech in front of the M40 motor-way crash.

Birt’s overriding mission was to pacify the BBC. He managed it but viewing figures dropped and journalists deserted it. Today the BBC tends to hire people who have already made it on ITV/C4 rather than taking chances. Cable and satellite TV were introduced as part of Government policy but they did not intend to hand Murdoch a monopoly.

As the situation stands the BBC now does deals with BSkyB, negotiating for second showing rights to major sports events. And while the corporation is running World Service TV on tax-payers’ money it is also seeking to buy in more American drama to compete with Channel Four’s ‘ER’ and ‘NYPD Blue’. One of the biggest producers is Fox TV, of ‘X-Files’ fame, so ultimately there are very close ties between the BBC and Murdoch. Unless legislation is put in place to secure major sporting events such as Wimbledon and people become more reluctant to pay the license fee, the future of the BBC seems increasingly uncertain.

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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Media, Profile


Profile: Keith Perch

“Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once.” —Cyril Connolly

When Keith Perch took over the editorship of the Cardiff based South Wales Echo in 1993 the paper did not know what was about to hit it. Almost immediately on arrival he fired 40 people and replaced them. He says: “The trouble with the profession is you spend a third of the time trying to find good people.”

The then 37-year-old went on to spent quarter of a million pounds on new technology placing the Echo at the forefront of newspaper publishing with full electronic page makeup and saving £1 million a year in production costs. From the time printing starts, an issue could now be on the streets in under half an hour.

In the first six months Perch turned the broadsheet with falling sales into a tabloid with increasing sales and rather than reducing quality he improved it. He knows the key to success and it earned him a free reign in a company which was supposed to frequently interfere in editorial decisions. But as he explains he was their “experiment” and he appeared to be leading the way for the entire Thomson group.

Perch was born in Epsom in 1957. His father was in the Royal Air Force and his mother did secretarial work. He has a sister and three brothers who are not journalists. After gaining a degree in philosophy and classics he got started in reporting in 1978 by writing a ten page letter to the editor of the Grimsby Evening Telegraph. After a two day interview he was accepted.

His career has involved Perch in most of the positions on a daily newspaper. It took him from Grimsby to the Derby Evening Telegraph and then on to the Birmingham Post Mail where he was made head of special investigations. He was expected to produce three stories a year. “It was a ludicrous job,” he says, “I got so bored waiting for the phone to ring that I had to do more.” After six months he returned to Derby to become news editor and after 18 months he was assistant editor of Hull’s Daily Mail.

Perch left the Mail to set up Select, a free, locally published magazine packed with posh, expensive advertising aimed at the middle class market. Three editions still ran in 1994. He used the profits to set up a newspaper but it was a flop.

After selling the Hull, Harrogate and Scarborough editions Perch returned to Derby to become deputy editor for a year. He then spent six months as editor at UK News, the main rival of the Press Association. On the day of his Norman Lamont resignation scoop he received a phone call offering him editorship of the Echo.

Perch says he was well paid, “more than most, certainly not what I’m worth. But I’ve got no gripes.” He drove his company Granada to work from his flat in Cardiff. His wife Jenny and children; Katie, then 7, and Amy, then 5, were still living in Derby. Working 70 hours or more a week and only saw his family on Sundays.

Perch’s favourite films are thrillers and he says he “doesn’t really like music” preferring instead to listen to audio books. But he’d rather be playing soccer. A self-confessed football fanatic, Perch has placed the game before his job and even skipped managerial meetings to watch the match. He is an avid Chelsea fan. Before Perch became editor of the Echo he used to play football at a senior level but subsequently only had time to play in the Sunday leagues in Derby and Thursdays in Cardiff. However he still found time to go on tour with his side to France in November 1993.

In August 1994 he launched the Newport and Cwmbran edition of the Echo. With the Cardiff based Echo’s sales hitting 100,000 copies a day and averaging 84,000 Perch decided that nearby Newport needed an alternative to the South Wales Argus. With declining sales of 38,000 daily less than a third of its market is buying it. By contrast the Echo was on the up, selling 15,000 more copies a day than the Western Mail, Wales’s national daily.

Perch puts his success down to his personal news philosophy. “The problem with newspapers is they’re all doom and gloom,” he says, “If there’s bad news we’ll cover it and we’re ten times as good at it.” However it is not the mainstay of his paper. On the last day of the Jamie Bulger trial the Echo ran the story front page along with everyone else but followed it with a feature on “Super Kids”, children who make the tea for old ladies because he wanted to show that most children are not murderers.

“All the newspapers do nothing but rape and violent crime,” says Perch, “People think ‘they’re not writing about the place I live in’.” He adds, “The difference is we reflect the community.” To improve local coverage he introduced the Saturday supplement Celebrations which featured local events. The Echo reintroduced silver and golden weddings, full obituaries, births and marriages because he says, “If there’s a wedding in the office people are talking about it for weeks.” Perch thinks the main problem with the other evening papers is “they’ve aped the nationals ‘don’t care’ attitude.”

One of Perch’s favourite headlines at the Echo was “Betrayed” on a front page piece about the closure of the last mine in Wales. It sums up what he’s about – telling the news from a local perspective. One thing that did not appear in Perch’s Echo were features on films and stars. Thomson provided a show business features service which their editors must subscribe to but Perch would not use articles on Tom Hanks and his ilk because it is not local news and not the reason people buy the paper.

In 1997 Perch returned to the Derby Evening Telegraph as editor, where he remained until 2001. He has now spent a decade at the helm of the Leicester Mercury.

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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Media, Profile


Profile: Chris Horrie

“I can’t stick musicians. I’ve thought about this. I can’t stand them, and being stuck in a studio with them I think that’s my strength I can hear what they can’t.” —Mark E. Smith

On a Monday morning in 1996 a figure resembling Columbo appears at the entrance to a dilapidated building in Back Hill, London, England. His clothes are crumpled and he has the same nervous air about him. He climbs the stairs and disappears into an office. He has not noticed the egg stain on his tie. In the evening he leaves, now bearing more than a passing resemblance to Bela Lugosi. This pattern continues for several days. On Friday he still hasn’t noticed the egg stain.

Christopher Horrie was born in Manchester in 1956 to working class parents. His father was a welder and his mother a school cleaner. He grew up in Gorsehill, Stretford, a stone’s throw away from Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground. As a boy Horrie had always wanted to play for United and was good enough to be called to a number of try-outs for Berry Boys Youth Football Club. Unfortunately he broke both his shoulder bones during a game when he was 15 and that was the end of that.

Horrie first had to come to terms with defeat when he failed the eleven plus exam. He felt totally humiliated. “It remains one of the most vivid things in my life,” he says. The whole experience made him very competitive and insecure.

Later on Horrie joined the Manchester Musician’s Collective which produced bands such as the Buzzcocks and Joy Division. There he met Mark E. Smith and subsequently joined the Fall. “There was no sign we would ever be taken seriously,” he says. “The idea was to destroy rock‘n’roll and the music industry which is an evil thing.”

The main influence on The Fall was Iggy Pop. “It was a disaster for me because I’d spent years perfecting a Jimi Hendrix style,” says Horrie. Smith wanted more of a riotous noise. “I used to say things like ‘Why don’t we play a few Bob Dylan numbers’ and they’d look at me as if I was mad,” says Horrie. He left the band to go to college.

Horrie went to university to get away from home. He studied politics and economics at Warwick University because in 1975, when he was applying, there was a student protest and it was the first university protest in the UK where riot police were sent in. He was also under the misguided belief that Warwick was about as far away from Manchester as you could get.

Graduating in 1978 with a 2:1 Horrie began working as a freelance sub on a variety of publications including Offshore Engineer and Carpet Review Monthly. He once served as editor of CND’s Sanity magazine. In that role he doubled as public relations officer. He wanted to boil down the arguments for disarmament, such as ‘bases make targets’ but he fell out with CND over the Greenham Common protest. Originally there was no plan to set up a permanent camp and Horrie tried to persuade CND to disassociate itself from those ‘nutters’ who did. Joan Ruddock was in favour of the encampment and Horrie was allegedly finally sacked for calling her a ‘stupid cunt.’

Horrie has since written for every British national daily and Sunday newspaper, even the Guardian which he once described as “a hopelessly disorganised newspaper.” He has also worked extensively in television including a year on World in Action. He has written 14 books including Disaster! the Rise and Fall of News on SundayStick It Up Your Punter! the Rise and Fall of the SunWhat is Islam?Sick as a Parrot: the Inside Story of the Spurs Fiasco, and  Fuzzy Monsters: Fear and Loathing at the BBC.

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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Media, Profile


WiReD != M2k

“The techno-elite are perhaps the only group advantaged by the new economy. They will be the new lords of the terrain in a Dickensian world of beggars and servants. Just because they think of themselves as hipsters doesn’t mean we should expect them to share the wealth.” — R. U. Sirius

I am currently trying to collect the complete set of Mondo 2000. The successor to High Frontiers and Reality Hackers, M2k was an independently financed magazine published in San Francisco from 1989 to 1998. There were 17 issues in all and a book, The User’s Guide To The New Edge, which Albert Finney can be seen reading in Dennis Potter’s Karaoke. It was published sporadically during much of its life and whenever I happened to be in Forbidden Planet in Cardiff and they happened to have a new issue in stock, I bought it. You may not have heard of it.

But you have heard of WiReD. Also started in San Francisco, in 1993, WiReD is M2k without the heart. I was going to go into a lot of detail on why I feel that way but what it comes down to is that, to the best of my knowledge, M2k never carried a three page fold-out advert for Lexus.


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Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Media, Technology


My Front Pages

“Just because I wrote it, just because it’s got my name on it, you mustn’t think I actually believe a word of it.” —Peter Cook

The Beaverbrook sketch from Beyond the Fringe comes to mind whenever I post anything on the Internet. My views have changed considerably since my first post to Usenet, but until the Earth is consumed by the dying Sun that post will still be kicking around on some server somewhere, even if there’s no-one left alive to read it.

So, with that cheery thought in mind, welcome to the public face of me. I reserve the right to contradict myself, to misquote, to offend, to be wrong, to bend, spindle, and mutilate the truth in pursuit of my cause, to channel the spirits of Hemingway and Thompson, and to generally self aggrandize. You have been warned.

This is not a web log. It has more in common with 10 Zen Monkeys. It’s just that I gave up using other tools to publish my website. iWeb was too bandwidth heavy, Google Sites is utterly inaccessible, and Blogger seemed a reasonable alternative (until I decided to give up Google and moved the whole shebang over to WordPress). The posts to the Home section are just drafts of things that could be turned into full length magazine articles. Feel free to commission me, or wait until I get Byte High No Limit off the ground. The other sections provide a little more background on me and some of my other projects. Everything on this site either copyright me, used under fair use, or appropriated from Bart Nagel.

As Felix Dennis said: “In life it is easier to apologise afterwards than to ask permission first.” Although apologising hasn’t worked out too well for me in the past so these days I’m going with the advice of Wayne Dyer who said: “Never defend, never explain.”

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Posted by on February 1, 2011 in Media