Sly move: how poor young Piers Morgan
is losing his grip on the Mirror Is the eight-year reign of Piers Morgan at the Daily Mirror drawing to a gentle close? Last October I wrote, 'My bet is that in six months' time the Mirror will not belong to Trinity.' Mmm. More than six months have passed and the newspaper has not been sold — yet. An approach to buy it was made before Christmas by the venture-capital groups Apax Partners and Candover, but rebuffed by the board of Trinity Mirror. Since then the condition of the group has worsened, with the sales of the Daily Mirror and its sister titles falling further, and several senior executives being asked to walk the plank.
Readers may be inclined to receive my predictions about the future of Mr Morgan with scepticism. Nonetheless. I believe his day is drawing nigh. This would not have been credited six months ago. Then he was still the darling boy of Sir Victor Blank, chairman of Trinity Mirror, despite having masterminded an expensive and unsuccessful relaunch of the Daily Mirror. But things have changed. The loss of sales has quickened alarmingly, largely because Mr Morgan's ferocious anti-war stance seems to have repelled some loyal Mirror readers. In April circulation stood at 1.92 million, a fall of some 7 per cent year-on-year. Even this might not have mattered if Mr Morgan's nemesis had not walked through the door in the shape of a blonde, fortyish new chief executive improbably called Sly Bailey.
I don't imagine that Ms Bailey has any more idea of what to do with the Mirror than Mr Morgan has. In fact, she probably has rather less. But she is now in charge. Mr Morgan formally reports to her, the managing director of national newspapers having been given the heave-ho. He is no longer the fond son of Sir Victor Blank or, if he is, the father's love has been attenuated by the arrival of Sly Bailey. A look at her purposeful features suggests that she is almost certainly making poor Mr Morgan's life hell. She peremptorily called an end to the price-cutting strategy which Mr Morgan had favoured, and did what incoming chief executives who want to make their mark normally do — instituted a wide-ranging strategic review.
Evidence that the wind had veered came last week at Trinity Mirror's annual meeting. In response to unfriendly questions about Mr Morgan's future, Sir Victor Blank said that he was 'a very good and competent tabloid editor and he's not, at the moment, on the way out'. This did not sound like the sort of ringing endorsement that an editor would like to receive from a chairman at an annual meeting. It suggested that when this particular moment has passed, Sir Victor might take a different view. Sly's own comments were no less ominous. 'I will define a clear, unambiguous direction for the group before deciding whether I have the right people in the right jobs. ... Beneath the board I need a management team that will shape and redefine goals for the company.' There is a sinister undertow to this management-speak that does not bode well for Mr Morgan. Sources within Trinity Mirror say that Ms Bailey has made it clear to Mr Morgan that he should find another job if he is so inclined, and there is already unseemly jostling for his chair.
How does Mr Morgan react as Sly's axe flexes above his neck? On the one hand, he seems to be making at least half-hearted attempts to take the Daily Mirror downmarket, which is to say away from the vision of a serious popular paper, inspired by Hugh Cudlipp. which he unveiled a year ago. There has been a law-and-order splash, more sex than we have seen recently, including the inevitable pictures of Kylie Minogue, plus generous lashings of showbiz and celebrity journalism, which Mr Morgan had eschewed. All this is calculated to please Sly, and it is certainly true that this return to old ways has given the sales of the Daily Mirror a slight upward blip. Yet I can't help wondering whether Mr Morgan is not going through the motions. Whenever an interviewer hoves into view, he is anxious to unburden himself of his regrets and to admit past faults. There is an elegiac tone to his reflections, a sense that it is all over.
Mr Morgan, being a highly talented journalist, though prone to wild judgments, will easily find lucrative employment. His television series Tabloid Tales suggests the small screen may be his natural destination. I am not sure that the Daily Mirror will have such a happy future. It needs a publishing genius to rescue it from its long years of decline, and both Sly Bailey and Sir Victor Blank would seem unfitted for that role. Ms Bailey's review will doubtless herald a full-blooded return to the values of red-top journalism, but Mr Morgan tried that, and it did not halt the fall in sales. The Daily Mirror's goose may have been cooked the day Rupert Murdoch bought the Sun. Let's hope that there is someone out there who can save the paper, but it won't be Trinity Mirror. My bet is still that Sly and Sir Victor will have to sell it.
The New York Times is the most insufferably pompous newspaper on earth. It hired a young reporter called Jayson Blair, who cooked up a large number of stories, inventing datelines and making up quotes. Like his more famous British namesake, he was economical with the truth, though much more so.
What would a sensible newspaper do on discovering such deceptions? Sack the journalist and publish a short apology. But that is not good enough for the New York Times. On Sunday it published a 7,500-word investigation, beginning on its front page, into Mr Blair's fabrications. The effect of this was to take the heat off the newspaper, for hiring Mr Blair in the first place, and to put it on the young black reporter. It was as though Mr Blair's faults were his own and had very little to do with Howard Raines, the paper's executive editor, who recruited and promoted him. This ponderous public deconstruction of a troubled young man does not seem very kind; and the implied self-exculpation is sickening.
Only the Guardian thought the story of some 130 people being sucked out of a airplane merited front-page treatment. Other newspapers tucked it away on the foreign pages last Saturday. Why? Because they were Africans, and it happened over the Congo. If they had been Russians, Chileans, Hungarians or even Indians, this terrifying story would have been put on the front by almost every newspaper. According to one of the few surviving passengers quoted by the Guardian, 'Forty-five minutes after take-off, the plane's door slid open, catapulting bodies from its cavernous interior.' Can we not relate to that? Evidently not. Africa is regarded as hopeless, and Africans, unless in Zimbabwe. as being in a special category of their own.