The following will make for an intriguing couple of opening sentences for our readers who don't work in the media: 'There is one UK national newspaper whose current ownership dates back to before the last great global flu pandemic just over a century ago. News businesses looking for tips on how to survive the current crisis could do worse than mimicking this title's approach. It requires deep pockets, and even deeper reserves of chutzpah, but I am willing to wager that when the world has returned to normality this publisher will emerge from the mire stronger'.
The writer is Dominic Ponsford, editor-in-chief of the UK's leading media industry website, Press Gazette
, who reveals: 'The title I'm referring to is the Daily Mail
, where insiders describe the paper's response to the pandemic as Northcliffian'. The Northcliffian reference is to the mid-market tabloid's founder, Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, whom Ponsford explains was the 'popular journalism pioneer who in 1894 funded an attempted expedition to the North Pole'.
He continues: 'Some 126 years later Harmsworth's great nephew – Lord Rothermere – hatched a plan which was equally ambitious: to tackle the crippling shortage of PPE the NHS was then facing. The Daily Mail's
detractors, who are legion, dismissed the paper's £1 million "airlift for NHS paper's heroes" of 27 April this year as a publicity stunt – but no other paper has raised as much money during the crisis. I wonder if the armchair critics of Twitter will be able to look back on this period of national trial and say they did as much?'
Subsequently, that initiative has evolved into the Daily Mail's
Mail Force Charity, established and supported by the Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), which helps support NHS staff, volunteers and care workers by finding untapped sources of vitally needed PPE from around the world and bringing them back to the UK to aid the fight back against the COVID-19 pandemic. That initial £1 million donation from DMGT has been boosted by close on £9 million subscribed by approaching 45,000 individual Daily Mail
Ponsford points out: 'The Daily Mail
featured the actress Emma Thompson on its front page boasting an interview in which she revealed she was lending her support to Mail Force. She said: "I've never been as moved by a newspaper campaign. It's a brilliant initiative which I'm happy to support… For a national newspaper to give people the opportunity to do something they are hearing about on the news every day, this whole question of PPE, was brilliant. You just want to be able to be useful in some way, and the paper gave them the opportunity to do something". The vocal left-winger is the last person many would expect to see supporting the Daily Mail
, and one insider referred to her coming on side as an event akin to the "melting of Narnia"'.
The Daily Mail
and its sister title, the Mail on Sunday
(the editions in Scotland both carry the Scottish prefix) are currently riding on the crest of a wave on a number of fronts. The fact that they have recently been voted Newspaper of the Year in their respective categories by their peers in the leading press awards both north and south of the border is not insignificant.
However it is their current circulation and advertising revenue performances in an industry where many newspapers, at national, regional and local levels, are on their knees, more especially so since the outbreak of COVID-19, that illustrates and emphasises the firepower of the DMGT titles.
Shortly, both newspapers are expected to overtake The Sun
and The Sun on Sunday
to become the UK's top selling titles; DMGT is very financially sound and cash rich, evinced by recently splashing out £48 million in buying the i
daily newspaper from the JPIMedia group; and MailOnline
is reckoned to be the most popular online newspaper on the planet.
DMGT has the ability to move very swiftly when it wishes. As Ponsford explains: 'Within 72 hours of Lord Rothermere (52-year-old DMGT proprietor Jonathan Harmsworth) and Daily Mail
editor, Geordie Greig, meeting last month to discuss the paper's response to the PPE crisis they had launched a new charity – Mail Force. Conversations then ensued involving Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, among others, where they discussed what could be done to help. Within five days of resolving to take action a Boeing 767 Dreamliner loaded with £1 million of PPE supplies had arrived in Heathrow from China.
'As relative newcomers to the news scene like Vice
have all drastically cut back their editorial operations – Daily Mail
owner DMGT has been one of the few UK media companies to avoid making furloughs (in common with News UK). Instead, staff earning over £40,000 have been asked to take shares in lieu of pay up to a maximum of 26% of salary for the highest earners. The Daily Mail
expects a lot from its staff, but it pays well and has repaid their loyalty in these tough times. At a time when the advertising industry has largely ground to a halt, the Mail
has been buying TV spots to promote its Mail +
Both the Daily Mail
and the Mail on Sunday
and other titles within the DMGT stable have also been involved in a fund offering 1,000 small businesses free advertising packages worth £3,000, up to a total of £5 million, in partnership with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Ponsford points out: 'This may well be largely unsold space, but the production effort required to fulfill this scheme will be considerable... What makes all this activity more remarkable is that, from 20 March to 19 May, the paper has been produced without a single person in the office. The result has been some tangible benefits, with subscribers to the paper's digital edition increasing by half to 60,000 (latest ABC figures) and expected to double pre-lockdown figures next month.
'The belief inside the paper is, as one insider put it: "Strong brands come out of a crisis stronger and weak brands sadly don't". The Daily Mail
may not be everyone's cup of tea, but one has to admire its energy. Newsbrands are like sharks, if they don't keep moving forwards they die.'
These are strange times indeed for the editorial staff of Newsquest's titles in Glasgow which come under the Newsquest (Herald & Times) Ltd banner. All the journalists at The Herald
, Glasgow Times
, the Herald on Sunday
, The National
, Sunday National
and the Scottish Farmer
magazine are now effectively homeless (well, to be strictly accurate: officeless) after the company, already under heavy pressure from declining income before COVID-19 savaged advertising and circulation revenues, has quit its HQ in Enfield Street and is seeking new premises.
It had apparently been in lengthy negotiations with its previous landlord to reduce the £1.17 million annual rental as it sought to cut costs. But no deal was struck. Fortuitously, all the editorial staff are working from home because of the pandemic. The 53,330 sq ft glass-fronted office in Renfield Street, which had 82 parking spaces, was bought in 2014 by Kames Capital's Property Income Fund in a deal then reportedly worth £13.7 million. I understand that at the time of the rental discussions Newsquest (Herald and Times) Ltd had a lease for the full property until 2030. But crucially, I gather, it came with a breakpoint which could be triggered this year. Senior Newsquest management had previously scouted out alternative hubs for some of its staff, including the journalists on the national titles.
In a statement to staff, managing director, Graham Morrison, had said: 'I have called a halt to our protracted negotiations with the landlord for the extension of the lease for our Renfield Street property which expires in May, 2020. Having taken cognisance of the situation, and the on-going issues we have faced during the negotiations with the landlord, I have concluded that the terms on offer are no longer value for money, and in the meantime that we will fully utilise the available space that we have in both Cambuslang (Print Centre) and Clydebank'.
He added: 'Whilst this is most definitely the right decision, I am still absolutely committed to having a significant presence in the city. We are actively seeking alternative premises in Glasgow and have already identified various options with commercial property partners'.
Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has topped a reader poll run by Press Gazette
which asked which high-profile politician has been the most impressive during the current COVID-19 crisis. The First Minister took 29% of the vote, followed by the UK Government's Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on 24%, and newly-elected Labour leader, Keir Starmer, on 23%. Just 14% voted for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, while 3% opted the UK Government's Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and just under 3% voted for the UK Government's Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab. As this poll was voted on by the highly influential media folk, the First Minister should be well pleased with her top-of-the-poll position.