How The Times morphed into the Daily Mail


By RICHARD DISMORE

When exactly did The Times turn into the Daily Mail? The obvious answer is: when Tony Gallagher, once a deputy editor of the Mail, took the reins at The Times. But the process goes back much further than that and demonstrates what a wonderful and wily newspaperman is Rupert Murdoch.

Gallagher, a favourite of Murdoch since his time on The Sun, was confirmed as Editor of The Times in October. He was soon into his stride.

This month, The Times has featured the Royal Family on Page One every day until Saturday.

It started with a splash on December 1 about the Prince of Wales’s godmother being forced to quit over her clumsy inquiry about the family background of a Palace guest and continued with the row over the Sussexes’ Netflix soap opera.

Often the story was woven around pictures released by Netflix as teasers for their documentary, for which Harry and Meghan were reportedly paid $100 million.

Those of us who laboured on middle market newspapers through the Diana era will recognise these as Grade A Royal stories but traditionally in the territory of the Mail and the Express. Are they “Times stories”? They are now.

How the paper has changed since the days when William Rees-Mogg, father of the tiresome toff Jacob, was Editor. Then, politics, finance and foreign affairs, along with staunch support for the Establishment, were the mainstays.

The Moggster (all right, he might not have been known to his staff by that moniker) was succeeded by the legendary Harold Evans. Hands up who hasn’t got all five of his books on newspaper editing and design on their shelves?

But he got into a tussle with Murdoch over editorial independence (no editor ever wins those battles and especially not against Murdoch). And despite the books he couldn’t get the paper on to the streets on time, so his reign was brief.

Next cab off the rank was Charles Douglas-Home, once of the Scottish Daily Express and later deputy to Express Defence (and Spook) Correspondent Chapman Pincher.

An Old Etonian, Douglas-Home clung to the traditional core values of The Times and, as perhaps befits the nephew of former Tory Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home, kept the paper firmly on the political Right. He often took editorial conference lying down to relieve the pain of the cancer that killed him in 1985.

Then came a defining moment. Charlie Wilson – known as Gorbals to Private Eye, after the tough area of Glasgow where he grew up – was appointed Editor. Wilson was another alumnus of the Mail, a hard-nosed newsman with enough nous to keep older readers happy while shamelessly seeking out younger ones. Not an easy trick to pull off.

Wilson’s Times was the launchpad for the eventual all-out attack on the Mail. It was characterised by human interest, wit and humour as well as solid reporting.

If Murdoch, pictured, ever had a grand plan for The Times, it faltered after Wilson’s five-year term as Editor. For the next two Editors, Simon Jenkins and Peter Stothard, were both brainy, columnists, authors and essentially liberal figures; impressive journalists but not really cut from the Mail’s cloth.

Then, with Aussie Robert Thomson as Editor, came a decisive move that rekindled the middle market fire. The paper went tabloid in 2003 after 218 years as a proud broadsheet. It must have been a tough, nerve-racking decision to make – and indeed it was trialled in London before going nationwide. But it worked and Thomson is now CEO of News Corporation after also editing Murdoch’s newly-acquired Wall Street Journal.

After James Harding and John Witherow, The Times now has an Editor who might have been sculpted by Paul Dacre himself. So, what next?

It will be fascinating to see the battle play out. You can never write off the Mail but my money’s on The Times, for one crucial reason.

Murdoch has thrown money and resources at a state-of-the-art website, which is for subscribers only. You can get it with or without a print version of the paper and it upholds all the editorial values of The Times.

The Mail’s website is free to access and full of clickbait trash. When print newspapers are finally consigned to history like the Linotype machine, the Mail will either have to change its business model or perish.


© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre