MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: THE DAILY MAIL - Mail group appears secure as era of Lord Rothermere ends. How solid is the legacy of the last newspaper baron? Alasdair Reid investigates

As most of the obituaries pointed out last week, the death of Lord Rothermere signalled the end of an era in newspaper publishing. He seemed to belong to another age, one inhabited by the likes of Lord Beaverbrook or the fictional press baron of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. It wasn’t as straightforward as that though. He also had a foot in a more modern age and made an immense contribution to (arguably) the greatest success story in the newspaper business over the past 30 years or so - the revival of the Daily Mail.

As most of the obituaries pointed out last week, the death of Lord

Rothermere signalled the end of an era in newspaper publishing. He

seemed to belong to another age, one inhabited by the likes of Lord

Beaverbrook or the fictional press baron of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. It

wasn’t as straightforward as that though. He also had a foot in a more

modern age and made an immense contribution to (arguably) the greatest

success story in the newspaper business over the past 30 years or so -

the revival of the Daily Mail.



He also realised how important it was for the Daily Mail and General

Trust to diversify into electronic media. Along with Associated

Newspapers’ editor-in-chief, Sir David English, who also took at least

half of the credit for resurrecting the Mail, he oversaw the launch of

Channel One, a ’metro’ cable channel format launched in London, Bristol

and Liverpool.



Sadly, though, Sir David English also died this year. Within a matter of

months, DMGT and Associated have lost its two greatest guiding lights.

Are they irreplaceable?



Of course - in as much as anyone is irreplaceable. Lord Rothermere’s

mantle falls to his son, Jonathan, who is to become chairman of

DMGT.



Jonathan is relatively young and is an unknown quantity. But does he now

find himself at the helm of a ship that sails itself - or will the loss

of both Sir David and Lord Rothermere have a marked impact on the

performance of the company?



Some analysts believe we already have the answer. The day after

Rothermere died, the Channel One stations in London and Bristol were

closed (although the Liverpool operation, a partnership with the

regional newspaper publisher, Trinity, will continue).



Peter Williams, DMGT’s finance director, claimed last week that the

timing was an unfortunate coincidence. The decision was actually taken

following the death of Sir David. Some might say that this is no less

unfortunate an admission. Channel One was closed because it was deemed

to be losing too much money for too long. Perhaps accountancy now has

the upper hand over editorial vision.



Can we expect similar consideration to begin affecting the operation of

the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday - and let’s not forget that the

latter, like Channel One, struggled desperately in its early years but

is now hugely successful.



Guy Zitter, the managing director of the Daily Mail, believes it will be

business as usual. ’Lord Rothermere and Sir David English played a vital

role in the success of the Daily Mail. They came up with a strategy and

built the foundations upon which today’s Daily Mail is growing. They

also put in place a team of enormous strength and depth to continue and

develop their success.’



Does the advertising industry see it that way? Yes, by and large. Bill

Jones, the deputy chairman of MediaCom, argues that the most important

succession took place months ago. ’The management has incredible

strength and the momentum to carry things through. Paul Dacre (who took

over as editorial director this summer) is proving a more than able

successor to Sir David.’



Bob Offen, the chief executive of Mediapolis, says there’s another side

to the coin: ’While Lord Rothermere and Sir David English probably

weren’t hands on, day after day, they probably exercised a restraining

influence.



People would have rejected ideas because they might have said to

themselves, ’This isn’t what they will want’. What sometimes happens

when there’s a generational change like this is that it can uncork a

tremendous amount of energy. The company will continue to be successful

as long as it continues to believe that editorial is key - and whatever

happens that will not change overnight.’



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