New editor proves Mirror knows what really sells papers

The Daily Mirror took an age to replace Piers Morgan as its editor. Still dizzy perhaps from the circulation blow dealt by publishing dodgy snaps of military abuse, it courted several candidates before settling on Richard Wallace, writes Ian Darby.

Wallace's internal promotion -- he was the deputy editor of the Sunday Mirror -- continues an interesting trend. Like Morgan,he comes from a showbiz reporting background, increasingly a prerequisite for a hotshot tabloid editor.

Having joined the Daily Mirror as a show-business reporter in 1990,it was Wallace who battled Morgan (then the editor of The Sun's Bizarre column) for tales of celebrity intrigue in the early 90s. He then oversaw the expansion of the Mirror's celebrity coverage and its continued fight with The Sun through the Matthew Wright column and then the launch of the 3AM girls.

Morgan's replacement as the Bizarre editor, Andy Coulson, has since become another former showbiz writer who has risen to the (red) top as the editor of the News of the World.

It was Morgan (followed by Wright and Coulson) who popularised the idea of showbiz hack as celebrity, as a mate of the stars, typified by images of a stupefied Morgan standing by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Readers lapped it up.

Contacts with celebrity fodder are the lifeblood of tabloids and any good redtop is reliant on a steady stream of showbiz exclusives. Let's face it, even a simple picture of Beckham scratching his bollocks shifts more papers than a report from Iraq. Something the Mirror has discovered to its cost.

Generally, Wallace is seen as a good appointment because of his background. "The big stories are what sell newspapers and he understands the Mirror philosophy. He knows what stories and celebrities are of interest to Mirror readers," the publicist Max Clifford is reported to have said last week.

Interestingly, though, The Sun has bucked the recent trend of hiring showbiz reporters as editor. The cerebral (he even wore glasses) David Yelland was a City editor and Rebekah Wade came up through the News of the World's features section and Sunday magazine.

The main weakness in Yelland's armoury was evident from his first day when he was forced to admit not knowing who Zoë Ball was.

Of course, Morgan abandoned his celebrity splashes to lead the Mirror into more serious terrain and Wallace is equally capable of serious thought (he worked as the Mirror's US editor on serious post-September 11 coverage).

But the hope is that Wallace will create a more lighthearted, showbiz focus for the Mirror. It seems to work in winning readers (just look at the Daily Star), but don't underestimate the title's misplaced talent for taking itself way too seriously.

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