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
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
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
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.’