MEDIA HEADLINER: Unflappable editor Hill steers Daily Star to success in ABCs - Hill provided the Daily Star with a confident, irreverent character

Campaign's office copy always goes missing. Leave it on your desk

and someone will nick it and you'll have to go looking for it in one of

the toilet cubicles or out by the service lift where people go for sly

fags. Not so long ago it was The Sun. For years, in fact, it's been The

Sun, although The Mirror has drifted in and out of demand. Not these

days. Now it's the Daily Star.



It's a situation that is increasingly reflected in the ABC figure. Its

average daily sale for September was 632,438 - up 14 per cent year on

year. It's the only newspaper in the market growing at a double-digit

rate. The Star is on fire and its editor, Peter Hill, is taking the

plaudits. So, what's the secret?



"There is no secret," Hill replies in that disarmingly modest way that

he has. "We just produce papers that people enjoy. We haven't forgotten

people like a laugh."



That trademark modesty is the first thing that strikes you about

Hill.



This isn't a flamboyant egotist, a media luvvie or a neurotic bundle of

insecurities. He oozes good sense and reasonableness. You're almost

tempted to think you're being confronted with something very

old-fashioned here.



But that would be a mistake. A big mistake. He's a million miles away

from the culture of scoops and epic liquid lunches that comprised the

old school of El Vino's in Fleet Street. This is a very modern master

craftsman.



Perhaps paradoxically, given that periods of international crisis are

supposed to be good for newspapers majoring in ponderously weighty

journalism, the current climate has been seemingly ideal for the Star.

It has emerged as the newspaper with the strongest personality and the

most confident character. It's a cheeky sort of character, a younger

version of the cheeky chappie that was The Sun circa 1987. The Star is

arguably cheekier, far more irreverent and infinitely less

aggressive.



"People forget that the other tabloid papers had been taking themselves

very seriously indeed, even before 11 September," Hill points out.

"They've been behaving very pompously, forgetting - or rejecting - the

only reasons for their success in the past. They are also boring

everyone."



Hill has implemented a simple but effective game plan on what, after

all, are modest resources. His greatest recent masterstroke was luring

Brian Woolnough, easily the best football writer around these days, from

The Sun. And having sewn things up at the back, in classic fashion the

paper went for twin strikers up front. Jordan's.



One media buyer argues that this isn't rocket science: "He's looked at a

few magazines, hasn't he? And he's worked out what motivates young men.

Surprise, surprise, it's half-naked women and sport. It's a daily FHM or

Loaded."



Fair cop? Not at all, Hill insists. The lads' magazines have had their

day, he argues - they've lost their relevance or ability to shock. Their

tone, too has become outdated. In this respect, Hill reckons he has

detected and plugged into a subtle shift in attitudes - attitudes, in

particular, to celebrity.



"People used to think of celebrities as distant and unreachable," he

says. "Now that's no longer the case. These days people are more likely

to be interested in celebrities, especially with all these Big

Brother-type programmes around. We're making that attitude relevant to a

spectrum of people. People in younger age groups neither know nor care

about politicians. They have become totally irrelevant. So too is the

royal family."



Listening to this, you're reminded of some of the clippings that draw

attention to the fact that Hill once studied philosophy and that he

tends to bring a historical perspective to many things.



Which is unique in this business, isn't it? Allan Rich, the chairman of

the Star's media agency, MediaCom, reckons so: "He's not precious or

pretentious. What you see is what you get. His unflappability builds

confidence around him."



But is this thoughtful leader happy to be regarded as an intellectual

among editors? Hill laughs. "I don't regard myself as an intellectual,"

he states. "I do read a great deal but so what? Tabloid newspapers are

not produced by stupid people, neither are they produced for stupid

people. Tabloid readers are very sharp."



Topics