MEDIA HEADLINER: How Daily Mirror's Morgan will keep the tits and arse at bay - Can Morgan maintain the tabloid's claims to greater class, Anna Griffiths asks

Interviewing Piers Morgan is rather like taking an express train.

But compared with four or five years ago, the ride has fewer comic bumps and turns and instead steams through stations with a bit more thought and a little less irreverence.

But with seven years as the editor at the Daily Mirror, Morgan is still more than capable of kicking up controversy. His recent slashing of the paper's price, and public sparring with The Sun's editor, David Yelland, prompted the media mogul Rupert Murdoch to declare that he needs reining in.

Loved by the media for his "good quote", the irony of his recent appearance in an episode of BBC1's My Worst Week, which looks at a celebrity's fall from grace, is not lost on Morgan. His worst week would be the one in 2000 when the Viglen shares scandal broke, when he was accused of being a main player in an insider-dealing ring involving his City Slickers journalists. But Trinity Mirror's board stood behind its golden boy and Morgan escaped with a stern dressing down from the PCC. Recent reports that the investigation is continuing, however, suggest this shadow still hovers over Morgan.

He is typically diffident about the affair. "I might die never knowing if I'm a crook or not. For a couple of months I found it very hard because the idea that I was branded as a crook wasn't very palatable. But two and a half years later I either let it dominate my every waking moment, or I forget about it."

It would seem that his waking moments, for now, are dominated by thoughts of the brave new world he believes his tabloid is carving out in the newspaper market. Officially unveiled in April with the rebranding of The Mirror back to its old name, the Daily Mirror, it ditched its "tacky red masthead and declared a more serious tone in its news agenda, while reinstating heavyweight columnists such as John Pilger.

Morgan has an ambitious game plan, a long-term strategy where greater news values will help revitalise the paper through attracting a younger, more dynamic readership. With a £20 million war chest to support these changes, the paper slashed its price by 10p for a month before reinstating the full price in half of the country in May. The Sun responded by cutting its price by 10p.

Morgan is adamant that he's not kicked off a price war. "I said on day one that it was not a price war, as in if The Sun cut its price to 10p we'd match it. We believe we've created a newspaper that if seen and read by people for long enough they will enjoy it and stay with it."

But recent ABC figures for June reveal that circulation of the Daily Mirror is down 0.6 per cent month on month, compared to The Sun's increase of 1.9 per cent. Morgan claims that in areas where there is price parity with The Sun the new-look Mirror is "smashing them daily", but accepts that overall circulation will take some time to turn around. "The management have absolutely signed up to this editorial thing we are on to. We're redefining the way you can do tabloid newspapers. If people want to be obsessed by The Sun/Daily Mirror battle they are missing the point. My only interest is to slowly get to a position where you see year-on-year increases. It may take a year to come through."

Graham Bednash, a founding partner of the communications agency Michaelides & Bednash, thinks Morgan could be on to something. "Advertisers want to be in an interesting, dynamic and innovative market. They don't just want audiences and numbers, they want attitude and that's precisely what Piers wants - readers with attitude, he says.

But talk of completely re-engineering the paper's position brings back painful memories of Andrew Marr's failed efforts to overhaul The Independent's news agenda. Morgan dislikes the comparison. "I've been editing for ten years and I think I've got a lot of experience under my belt. We were announcing an evolution because since 11 September we have been a radically different newspaper."

The Daily Mirror's front pages have eschewed tits and arse for emotive imagery, such as the recent shot of a dead baby lifted from the carnage of an Israeli bomb. Morgan is on a mission: "I want to shatter the myth that the front page has to have naked women on it to sell the newspaper."

He claims that with this upmarket approach comes a commercial benefit.

"We are obviously going to attract new advertising with this agenda. I defy any intelligent advertiser to read what we're doing and not see something bold."

Paul Thomas, MindShare's press director, is reticent about Morgan's new breed of advertiser. "Environmentally, yes, it's a little bit different, so advertisers may give it another look. There's not a shift from MindShare's client base, but that's not to say we're not looking at what the Daily Mirror is doing and monitoring it."

Morgan's revolution may be a costly one, but he's hoping tabloid readers - and advertisers - eventually live up to his expectations.

THE MORGAN FILE
1988: The Sun, reporter
1989: The Sun, Bizarre editor
1994: News of the World, editor
1995: The Mirror, editor

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