It is an accepted tradition that most people start each New Year by making resolutions to quit bad habits and replace them with good ones. New Year for most people equals New Start.
At the end of 1996 it was clear that the Daily Mirror, as it was then called, needed to do something if it was to make a real impact in the newspaper market, specifically in the arena of the populars. It needed an overhaul for several reasons.
First, the aggressive price-cutting that we have seen in the national newspaper market since 1993 has only stemmed the decline in circulations. So in a popular newspaper market, which was at best remaining steady in terms of sales, the Mirror was gradually losing share to its main rival The Sun. Since the “price war” began The Sun has gained a further five per cent of the popular newspaper market.
Second, the Mirror’s total readership has fallen almost 14 per cent since 1993 – in practical terms it has lost over 1 million readers.
Third, its profile is much older than The Sun’s and it has a dearth of readers in the all-important 15 to 24-year-olds category.
It is a fact of life that we all get old, and for any newspaper to survive it must attract young readers to compensate for its ageing readership. To date, the Mirror has been singularly unsuccessful in doing this and its readership profile has got steadily older. According to its managing director Roger Eastoe, it loses 30,000 readers each year because, to be brutal, they die. National Readership Survey figures for April to September 1996 show more than a third of its readers are over 55 compared with The Sun, whose over-55 readers make up about a quarter of the total readership of the paper.
So, at the beginning of 1997, the Daily Mirror became The Mirror in a move which heralded increased investment in the paper. The specific aim is to differentiate The Mirror from The Sun. With the new name came a new-look front page, which is much cleaner and more accessible than the old one. It promises exclusivity on virtually every headline.
As part of the attempt to move away from its old-fashioned image to one of being forward-thinking, the subtitle has changed from the value statement of “honesty, quality and excellence” to “the paper for the new millennium”. This pursues the theory that people will not stay with a paper if the only improvement is the front cover: the Mirror has undergone radical changes throughout. It has added extra pages and revamped its editorial.
Increased marketing and promotional support has also been promised and new ads for the title broke at the beginning of the year. As part of the effort to attract younger readers it is distributing free copies to schools and colleges.
It is to the credit of the powers that be at the Mirror that this revamp is only just the beginning. Years of decline are not arrested in an instant. Only time will tell if these changes will make any difference, but for the Mirror at least, this year is most definitely a New Start.