June 7, 2018 / 10:03 AM / 17 days ago

Breakingviews - Daily Mail editor picks shrewd time to move on

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Lord Rothermere, chairman of the Daily Mail and General Trust, reckons Paul Dacre is the greatest UK newspaper editor of his generation. The tabloid’s peer-beating circulation figures since 2000 add weight to that case. A recent deterioration, however, suggest it’s a good time for Dacre to move on.

Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre arrives to give evidence at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the media, at the High Court in London February 6, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

The newspaper’s parent group on Wednesday confirmed that the tabloid’s editor of 26 years would leave the newsroom. Dacre is taking a backseat role as chairman and editor-in-chief of Rothermere’s wider newspaper business from October, and will lose day-to-day editorial responsibilities the following month.

His tenure, characterised by anti-immigrant front pages and a fierce opposition to the European Union, saw the Daily Mail defy gravity while rival tabloids’ circulation figures plummeted. At the end of 2017, it was selling about 1.4 million copies a day – a decline of about 40 percent from the figure in January 2000. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper, by contrast, had shrunk by almost 60 percent over the same period, while the left-leaning Daily Mirror was down by roughly 75 percent, according to a Breakingviews analysis of data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC).

The Daily Mail and sister publication Mail on Sunday are still crucial to the health of Rothermere’s holding company, despite a long-running effort to diversify into faster-growing businesses like insurance data services. The two papers generated 455 million pounds of revenue in the last financial year, or 27 percent of the parent group’s total. That’s in the same ballpark as the 31 percent proportion from five years ago.

Still, as consumers’ consumption habits shift online, Dacre’s figures are looking less impressive. The Daily Mail’s print circulation in April was 11 percent lower than a year earlier, using ABC data. The average year-on-year shrinkage last year was 7 percent. The year before, it was 5 percent.

For four months running, the Daily Mail has been shrinking faster than the Sun in year-on-year terms. That only happened three times in the 84 months from January 2011 and December 2017. DMGT said in November that revenue in its media business for the current financial year would see a “mid-single digit” decline. An end to Dacre’s Fleet Street dominance was showing up even before his departure.

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