MEDIA: Forum - Is The Mirror's desire for news what readers want? - Can the relaunched Daily Mirror maintain its traditional red-top tabloid readers as it shifts toward a greater news focus?

The world is getting more intelligent. Discuss. Do not exceed 1,100 words, using only one side of the paper. And the paper in question will of course be The Mirror - sorry, The Daily Mirror. Yes, it's back. The Daily bit got dropped as part of one of the paper's many relaunches and revamps during the past decade, but last week, in a gesture designed to emphasise the fact that the paper has rediscovered the more serious bits of its heritage, there it was again.

The Daily Mirror. It sounds like a serious newspaper, doesn't it? Which is fine because the world is not only more intelligent, it's more serious too. After all, have you seen what sort of a state we're in? This latest Mirror relaunch will, it hopes, plug the paper firmly into the conflict-riven, terrorist-dominated aspects of the zeitgeist - and in another highly symbolic gesture it has also dropped the red masthead livery, thus distancing The Daily Mirror from the "red top

tabloid antics of the likes of The Sun and Daily Star.

Not that you would recognise this serious positioning given the 3am girls' Sven-sational front page scoop last week, but if it does manage to pull off a move to the higher ground, will it have a positive effect? After all, The Mirror has been evolving for decades in exactly the same direction as its closest rival, The Sun. Year by year it has become more trivial, more jokey, more gossipy, more celebrity obsessed. It has moved hand-in-hand with its readers - and yes, that audience has also been declining year after year, but then so has the audience of just about every paper on the market save for the Daily Mail.

Isn't there a huge risk of losing a large chunk of the existing readership?

Does The Mirror now want to attract a different audience? And if so, where does it expect to find new readers? Is it targeting mid-market papers such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express?

No, basically, Alisdair Luxmoore, The Mirror's marketing director, says.

He explains that two clear messages came out of recent research. "The first is that people do not change the newspaper they buy very often.

Therefore, I don't think it would be sensible to base your strategy on the notion that we can get the readers from competitors. So the strategy is actually two-fold. First, to build a closer bond with existing readers because by making the most of that bond you can encourage them to buy it more regularly -which can have a significant impact on circulation figures. Second, it is sensible to get them while they are young, at the stage when they're just beginning to form their newspaper, buying habit.

In all the research we have done, The Mirror's powerful combination of news, sport and gossip comes out unbelievably strongly against that younger age group. And you'd be amazed how broad that appeal is - and because of the strength of the Mirror brand, it's slightly skewed toward women of all ages, but particularly younger women."

Luxmoore reckons the demographic makeup of the audience won't change radically, but that shouldn't stop a wider range of advertisers from reconsidering the title, he insists. Media buyers should instead change their attitude to the 60 per cent of the population that are in Mirror territory. "It's about attitude rather than demographics. The problem when you're obsessed with ABs is that a phenomenally attractive audience gets downgraded."

Is it a convincing theory? Jeremy Found, the head of media at COI Communications, comments: "I think it has been moving toward the middle market for a while anyway. But it's a hard thing for it to do - and it will be a long haul to convince both readers and advertisers. The most encouraging thing from our point of view is that it is continuing to invest in the product."

But at the simplest of levels, isn't it pleasing, especially from the point of view of an advertiser, like the COI, that The Mirror is continuing to pursue a relatively grown-up editorial line? "It depends on the particular campaign though. You can't generalise about that," Found says.

Greg Grimmer, the managing partner at Optimedia, thinks The Mirror is adopting a risky strategy: "There's a real danger of the people (at The Mirror) believing their own PR. They've surrounded themselves with well-educated middle-class people and they're in danger of confusing them with Mirror readers. Mirror readers might not want to go upmarket. (The Mirror's editor Piers) Morgan says it's all about the fact that the populace is better educated and less politically aligned than it was before. He believes also that we've become bored with tabloid journalism. But to my mind Morgan has taken against the red tops because he knows he just can't win against The Sun."

Grimmer says that if he were a betting man, he wouldn't put money on The Mirror selling an extra 100,000 copies in a year's time. "Morgan says he will count it a success if he is selling in a year's time what he is selling currently, because he will have stemmed a 50-year decline. The danger is that in taking The Mirror out of the red-top market you lose a lot of your tabloid readers - and Murdoch-haters now have the slightly more acceptable Star to go to. Losing readers will still remain easier than gaining them."

In fact, some observers think that The Mirror's strategy will only work if it does steal readers from the midmarket titles. Yes, there could be some Sun and Star readers that may want to graduate from an 11-year-old reading-age publication to a 13-year-old reading-age publication. But The Sun has actually hit a rich vein recently - and its Beck Us Pray front page was genius in the classic Sun tradition.

Should the midmarket feel in any way threatened? Guy Zitter, the managing director of the Daily Mail, says that from his position, the plan does not make any sense for The Mirror, let alone threaten the Daily Mail. "Compare the two publications and ask yourselves if a Daily Mail reader is remotely likely to abandon it for The Mirror. Then ask existing Mirror readers who have been loyal for many years if they like their increasingly schizophrenic newspaper."

Zitter is perhaps referring to the countless tweaks and relaunches The Mirror has been through over the past couple of decades. Or questioning whether you can attempt to be a tabloid yet not quite a tabloid at the same time.

He adds: "The Express at 20p might be considered reasonable value for money and if (Express proprietor Richard) Desmond can afford to run this price nationally and permanently, his titles might not be that affected.

The only certain results of this relaunch are first that The Mirror's sale will drop beneath two million, which is catastrophic for a redless red top. And second, that Rupert Murdoch will smile."

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