Mirror marks time of pride and shame

Interpublic agencies Initiative Media and Universal McCann are set to create a centralised negotiation house with UK billings of around £900 million

Leeds United footballer Lee Bowyer

It was The Mirror's Pride of Britain Awards at the Hilton Hotel in London last week, when the paper celebrated the courage of dozens of individuals with life stories to make the hardest of hearts bleed. Rather than enjoying the day, however, the Sunday Mirror's journalists and advertising staff had to concentrate on keeping a stiff upper lip.

As everyday heroes came together to meet celebrities from Tony Blair to Robbie Williams, for what must be the ultimate newspaper feel-good story and which the next day was splashed over a dozen Mirror pages, an inquest was raging behind the scenes at Trinity Mirror.

As soon as they returned to their Canary Wharf offices, thoughts, at least those of anyone connected to the Sunday Mirror, turned to a less famous media haunt than the Hilton - Hull Crown Court and a double-page story which - far from being the Pride of Britain - did serious damage to the paper's public image.

Thanks to an interview with the father of the victim of an alleged attack by a gang said to include Leeds United footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate, published while the jury was still considering its
verdict, the wheels came off one of the most high-profile trials in recent times.

The timing of the awards could not have been more unfortunate for Trinity Mirror bosses and although a few of its staff at the ceremony were prepared to crack jokes about the prospect of sharing the same prison block in a few weeks' time, the repercussions of the story which brought a £10m trail shuddering to a halt were anything but joke material at the Mirror, especially for editor Colin Myler, who resigned from his job last Thursday, paying the price for the decision to print the story which was deemed prejudicial by Mr Justice Poole.

At the time of Media Week going to press, The Sunday Mirror still faced an unlimited fine over possible contempt of court charges and Myler, despite his departure, was still sweating on a decision by the attorney general over his own chances of appearing in the dock.

Leeds United footballer Jonathan Woodgate

Meanwhile, Trinity Mirror chief executive Philip Graf saw shares in the country's biggest newspaper group plunge by about three per cent the day after the judge's decision to halt the trial, wiping an estimated £40m off the company's value.

This for a group which, in common with many national newspaper companies, is suffering falling circulation and struggling against falling advertising revenue. According to the March Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, circulation of the Sunday Mirror fell by more than five per cent year on year, with The Mirror down more than three per cent.

These events serve to highlight how serious an editorial mistake can be for a business as a whole. But just how damaging will the events of last week be for Trinity Mirror?

In the short-term the answer appears to be very. Apart from the considerable financial consequences of fines and the impact on share value, it was always unlikely the episode would pass without heads rolling at the Sunday Mirror, although some industry insiders were surprised Myler himself was the one to carry the can.

However, industry experts suggest it is unlikely the case will have the same long-term implications as, for example, the Sun's coverage of the Hillsborough disaster, which to this day has given the newspaper persona non grata status in the city of Liverpool.

 

Morgan: PCC ruling

According to press buyers, Trinity Mirror's clients are unlikely to withdraw advertising from the Sunday Mirror, despite its temporary place in the dock of shame.

Adam Crow, press buying director at Universal McCann, said he believed some of the more unscrupulous figures in his profession might try to negotiate cheaper deals with the newspaper on the back of its embarrassment.

He said: "It's a real shame. I'm sure they'll take a bit of a kicking over this. I think there are people out there who will try to use it as a stick to beat them with."

But Crow said he believed while some buyers may see the chance to squeeze the Mirror for cheaper ad rates, the damage would be short, not long-term.

He said he believed the vast majority of advertisers would stick with the Mirror.

"I don't think readers will turn away from the Mirror group because of this. I think publication of the article was a mistake, but I don't see any reason why this should hit the Sunday Mirror long-term."

The collapse of the Leeds footballers' trial is not, however, the only recent controversy involving a Mirror publication.

Last year, the Press Complaints Commission ruled The Mirror editor Piers Morgan had broken the code of conduct on financial journalism by buying shares the day before the Mirror published its City Slickers column tipping them. A court case is still pending over the episode.

But Priscilla Rogan, press buying director at Media Planning Group, also believes the latest public relations crisis at Trinity Mirror will not cause long-term harm to the group.

She said: "There will be commercial implications in the short-term and I'm sure heads will roll, but it would be a very brave client who decided to withdraw their advertising on the back of this."

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