The Mirror's Lloyd Embley on lessons from Sun on Sunday mistake (part two)
Our interview with the new editor of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror continues, as he claims The Sun is on the wrong track with its Sunday edition and reveals his gruelling workload bedding in the new seven-day operation.
Embley, says Mark Hollinshead, Nationals chief at Trinity Mirror, was simply the strongest candidate, beating rivals Richard Wallace and Tina Weaver on "creativity, innovation and the way they approached the whole publishing challenge".
What happened with Wallace and Weaver?
Wallace and Weaver, understandably protective of the identity of the titles they had edited for eight and 11 years respectively, were, it is claimed, opposed to the "seven-day operation". Was this the case?
"We were putting in place a new structure," Hollinshead says. "There were three candidates for the role and Lloyd was the clear leader."
The headlines the day after Embley's appointment claimed that Wallace and Weaver, who are thought to be close, were plotting a coup with a financial backer that would have seen them take over the running of Trinity Mirror and hiving off its troubled regional titles.
Hollinshead gives the idea short shrift, insisting, "This is absolutely a false story".
Others have suggested that the sackings bore the fingerprints of Sly Bailey, by then a lame duck, outgoing chief executive, who wanted to exact revenge on the pair after they had opposed her budget cuts over the years.
Whatever the truth, there is now a new regime in place, fronted by Holllinshead and Embley, both of whom speak positively, if cautiously, about Bailey. Bailey appointed Embley as editor of The People, and Hollinshead as managing director of the national titles.
The Mirror titles, in keeping with virtually all national newspapers, have endured years of cuts.
Journalists have been axed and costs taken out, but it's worth remembering that the Mirror remains the third most-popular daily paper in the UK and still carries serious weight. It still sells more a million copies a day, while its Sunday counterpart sells the same at the weekend.
But the internet, and latterly the recession, have hurt all tabloid newspapers. For instance, at the start of the 20th century, The Daily Mirror was regularly selling around 2.25 million copies.
Overall, the Trinity Mirror national titles division – which comprises the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, The People and Scottish titles Daily Record and Sunday Mail – reported revenues of £453m in 2011 and operating profits of £83.1m, down 12% on the year.
Like any new editor, Embley wants to make his mark and he appears to be hitting the ground running. The days of editing a weekly print product are long gone, replaced by high-octane 12-hour days, six-days a week, heading up two papers which are published across print, online, mobile and e-edition.
The joke in the newsroom, says Embley, "is that I am the seven-day operation. At the moment, I am in by 9am and leaving by 10pm and doing a six-days a week."
This gruelling schedule, Embley admits, is unsustainable, but senior management appointments are being made to ease his workload.
Changes to be made to the papers
"I think already in the first three weeks, there is a visible change to the paper, a change in the tone. I have probably put stories in different places to other editors. Some things will become more noticeable over time. There will be tonal changes and visual changes."
For those who questioned whether the Daily Mirror would lose its edge under Embley, they need only read a headline running in last week’s issue, on the back of Jimmy Carr's tax revelations, which screamed for David Cameron to reveal the tax arrangement of his cronies.
This year marks a great sporting summer. After the Euros comes the Olympics and the start of the football season, which, given their heritage in sport, should prove a fertile few months for the Mirror titles.
The death of sensationalist journalism
The Sunday Mirror will be battling it out with the Sun on Sunday for scoops and readers, although amid a landscape which is a far cry from what it was 10 years ago, when sex scandals and "stings" drove the Sunday sale.
Privacy laws and the Leveson Inquiry have taken the sting out of the tabloids, some would say emasculated them as they now shy away from the big exposés, replacing them with more family friendly fodder.
Embley disagrees: "It depends on what stories you like writing. To be honest, this [sex scandals and exposés] was not massive territory for the Mirror. The landscape has changed and is ever-changing."
Following the closure of the News of the World, the Sunday Mirror was able to pick up hundreds of thousands of readers, but these have now mostly been lost.
Some believe there was not enough done in the intervening months before the launch of the Sun's Sunday edition to capture readers. Now it's here, Embley and Hollinshead are far from impressed with the Sun on Sunday.
Embley says: "This is the learning we can take into our seven-day operations. We are not going to make the mistake they have made. The Sun on Sunday is not a Sunday newspaper. Rupert Murdoch stated that he wanted a seventh day of The Sun and that is what he has got."
Hollinshead agrees: "They [News International] have their strategy, we have ours. We believe you need a unique proposition on a Sunday as purchase and consumer behaviour is different at weekend."
How this point of difference will manifest itself will likely become clearer in the coming months.
The Mirror’s digital offensive
Digital and how to make money out of it continues to be the great elephant in the room for national newspapers.
The Mirror titles' digital reach, though growing, is dwarfed by the likes of Mail Online and The Guardian, although this is not heartland territory for them.
Mirror.co.uk has been relaunched and by the autumn, the Mirror will be available in print, online, mobile and e-edition.
Anybody who spent 17 years working at the sharp end of national tabloid print journalism is going to be judged by some as a digital dinosaur. Embley is no different.
He says, "First and foremost, I am from a print background and print is what I know. But the idea that I have some sort of ignorance digitally is not true. I have a massive appetite for digital. I want further integration on digital. I had a meeting about it this morning."
Embley’s digital credential will be judged over time, but it will be print and not digital which define whether he sinks or swims as an editor.
New men at the helm
Embley and Hollinshead make a good pairing and arguably the Mirror titles need some fresh thinking and fresh faces. The reigns of Bailey, Weaver and Wallace, while admired to varying degrees, had to some extent become synonymous with journalistic cuts, although not the fault of the latter two.
Hollinshead has the look and confidence of a man who wants to see the "seven-day operation" succeed. What then for him? Well, there is a vacant chief executive's role.
For Embley, he has landed his dream job. Recalling the day Hollinshead asked him if he wanted the job, he says "It was a pretty short conversation," adding "Ever since I joined the Daily Mirror in 1994 I've wanted to be editor".
The Mirror titles will undoubtedly ride highs and lows over the coming months as the new strategy begins to take effect. But from the time Media Week spent with Hollinshead and Embley, there clearly is a vision upon which both will either thrive of die by.
Follow John Reynolds on Twitter @johnreynolds10
This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk
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