DAILY      DRONE

LORD DRONE’S MIGHTY FLEET STREET ORGAN,

 THE WORLD’S GREATEST ONLINE NEWSPAPER

CONTACT THE DRONE



SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

*

The Daily Express is doomed, it would take a miracle — and a newsman boss — to revive it

Jim Mullen is no newsman — and a saviour of the Express he ain’t


I would love to believe that the Daily Express could be resurrected from its tomb at Reach. But of course, it’s too late for that. Ever since Richard Desmond off-loaded the Express for £200 million in 2018, the paper has been a boil on the arse of the Mirror and will eventually be lanced.


And anyway, I don’t think Reach’s Chief Executive Jim Mullen is the man to roll aside the stone at the mouth of the tomb. It would take a miracle to revive the Express and for that you would need a newsman. Which he ain’t.


Mullen’s focus is on his newspapers’ online presence, which Reach thinks, correctly, is now at least as important as its place on the newsstand. The company he runs is committed to the switch from print to digital.


Its website says: “At Reach, we’re creating a more data-led, digital business. The enduring appeal of our print titles supports the investment in our digital infrastructure and platforms and in our talented, diverse teams.”


Claptrap. Enduring appeal? The circulation of the Mirror, which once sold five million copies a day, was 256,216 in August, down 15 per cent on last year. The Express, once a mid-market titan with sales of four million, was reduced to 162,948 in the same month, down 14 per cent.


Mullen knows only digital can save them. This is one reason why he launched the Mirror, the Express and the Irish Star in the United States. Gossip coming out of 1, Canada Square, in Canary Wharf, suggests it has not so far gone well. In fact, Editor-in-Chief Lloyd Embley is said to have lost his job because of the lacklustre launch.


It is also why print journalists on the Mirror and the Express are concerned that Mullen is preparing to sack many of them and rely instead on online staff and a few professional subs to bring out the papers. This would be a further step along the road to shutting the papers down altogether.


The cold truth is that that day is inevitable and not far off. So, the real question is: What will editors and managements put in their place?


It’s all very well deciding to publish online and structuring the business to achieve that. But Mullen seems to be forgetting something. First you must have a product the punters want.


Mullen once worked for Rupert Murdoch’s News International as Director of Digital Strategy and Product Management, so – unlike the rest of his Board – he is not without newspaper experience before his latest assignment.


Murdoch, though, is a proper newspaperman. His father, Sir Keith Murdoch, owned a small paper in Adelaide and when, on his father’s death in 1952, he took it over, Rupert used it as the foundation for his media empire.


His father had made him learn all aspects of newspaper work, not just the boardroom bit. So he knew what sub-editors did and he could talk to Editors on their terms and command their respect. After he took over the old Sun, the men in the machine room were taken aback to find Murdoch expertly helping to change the plates.


Mullen doesn’t have this advantage and it shows. If you go on to the Mirror website you find a jumble of disconnected stories with little attempt to give a shape to the day’s events. When you find a story that takes your fancy, irritating pop-up ads move it from your eye line.


Compare that with the joined-up thinking on Murdoch’s Times. It has one site that shadows that day’s print edition – clear, easy to read, well signposted, with the most important stories at the front. Another site, constantly updated, deals with breaking news and contains the paper’s archives. You must subscribe to access both sites. When the death knell sounds for print, they are ready.


The Mirror has always been a paper that wrote short under big headlines in the finest tabloid tradition. But it didn’t write down to its readers. On the contrary, it skilfully pared down complex events to bring the day’s important news to the working man.


It doesn’t seem that way in its digital version. I have a friend who used to work for Reach and once told me: “The online journalists just rip stuff off from other publications without even checking facts. They are very fast at copy and paste, though.


“The CEO thinks they are great. They churn out hundreds of stories a day and never leave their desks, unlike those print hacks going out on door knocks and claiming expenses.”


It reminded me of the story of a Hollywood mogul who had a writers’ room full of highly paid hacks. It would infuriate him if he passed the building and couldn’t hear frenetic typing. “They’re not writing, goddammit!”


My friend concluded: “Reach’s CEO doesn’t get print or news and thinks clicks are everything. I think it is a house of cards that will suddenly go down.”


I hope he is wrong but I’m not putting money on it.

*****

Children will have to brush their teeth at school under a Labour plan to save the nation’s gnashers.


This will happen “under supervision”, according to a policy announcement from Sir Keir Starmer’s team.


Who do you imagine will do the supervising? Yes, go to the top of the class: teachers, of course.


They will just add that to their other duties of dishing out the cornflakes first thing; keeping a kind of order in the school canteen at lunchtime; overseeing the after-school clubs; refereeing sports matches on Saturdays; and acting as child-minders, social workers and quasi-psychiatrists.


In between all that, they might even get a bit of teaching done before they stagger home, drained, to do the marking and plan tomorrow’s lessons.


I’m from a family of teachers: wife, brother, sister, sister-in-law – all teachers. I even tried it myself, briefly, joylessly and unsuccessfully. It is stressful, thankless and poorly paid and I have no idea why, these days, anyone does it.


All my lot retired as soon as they possibly could because of the incessant, brain-frazzling noise, the indiscipline, the occasional violence and the feeling that it was mostly a waste of time. Too many of the pupils did not want to learn and saw to it that those who did, couldn’t.


Now teachers are expected to give the nippers lessons in dental hygiene because tooth decay is the most common reason for children aged from six to 10 to be admitted to hospital. Forty-two thousand went in to have teeth removed in England in 2021-22.


That’s shocking but it’s not the teachers’ problem. Like breakfast, lunch and everything after 4pm, it should be the parents’ responsibility.


Teachers are there to teach. Let them.

*****

The outbreak of a new Israel-Hamas war in the Middle East cast my mind back to my time on the Sunday Express when such an event would have led to a conversation with Gordon Thomas, of this parish.


Especially as this conflict was unexpected and apparently caught both the Israeli military and the two intelligence agencies, Mossad and Shin Bet, asleep on the job.


Gordon was born in Wales, a cousin of Dylan Thomas, and wrote 53 books, including The Assassination of Robert Maxwell – Israel’s Superspy, in which Gordon claimed that Mirror proprietor Maxwell had worked for Mossad and stolen secrets for them from the White House, Downing Street and the Kremlin. Gordon also wrote Inside British Intelligence: 100 years of MI5 and MI6.


Spying was his specialist subject and my favourite book of his was Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad. I have several copies on my shelves because he regularly updated it and, knowing my fascination with the secret world, he would send me a new copy each time he did so. To write it, he gained extraordinary access to both agents and spymasters.


Altogether, his books sold 45 million copies. He died in 2017, aged 84, and I miss working with him. He would have been in his element now.


As a journalist for the Daily Express, he scooped the world with his 1956 story of the nationalisation of the Suez Canal and, from his farm near Bath, provided the Sunday Express with some brilliant background reporting during the Gulf Wars.


Trivial but true: Gordon was once married to Annie Nightingale, Radio One’s sweetheart of the Seventies. They had two children.

*****

Unless you are a diehard rugby fanatic, like me, you might well not have heard of Steven Luatua.


He is a former All Black who now plays his rugby for Bristol and Samoa and he has just given an inspiring interview to The Times.


Luatua is the child of Samoans who emigrated to New Zealand, where he was born. But he admits: “I don’t think I would have become the player I am without going to Samoa at the age of 11.


“I spent a year in Samoa when I was naughty. That was kind of the thing when you were younger. If you were considered to be a little shit, then you got sent to Samoa.


“I was just pissing them off. It set me on the straight and narrow. I came back and I was polite.”


That year also toughened him up and set him on the road to sporting glory. Luatua is a fine back row forward, 6ft 5in and nearly eighteen and a half stones.


After reading the interview, it wouldn’t bother me to run into him in a dark alley. On the rugby field, though? Now that’s a different matter.


10 October 2023