Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Circulation War: The processes that have led to Sensationalization

The second of three parts of my 1996 MA dissertation 'Shock! Horror! England in the Tabloid Press: An Investigation Into the Tabloid Press, the England Football Team and the Processes Which Have Led to Sensationalisation'. This installment discusses the history of the Press in England.  Part one can be found here.

The Circulation War: The processes that have led to Sensationalization

The aim of this chapter is to delineate the long-term social processes that have led to the shaping of the printed media but more especially to the tabloid Press as we know it in England today, as well as to the rise in sensationalization in those papers.  In short I will be attempting to identify and highlight which social conditions have facilitated the creation of papers such as the Sun and the Daily Mirror and the style that they employ.

In doing this I hope to divest myself of the tendencies in studies of this nature to “seek timeless correlations [and] generalizations about the media that take too little account of spatio-temporal variations” (Murphy et al, 1988:39).  I also feel such an approach will highlight the complex networks of relationships involved in the print media.  Not only are there those between the sportsperson and the sports journalist but also those between the journalist and the editor. 

However there are wider figurations.  The editor of any one newspaper will be involved in a relationship with the chief executive, who in turn will be locked into further relationships, perhaps with other media entrepreneurs, editors and politicians of the particular country involved.

In this respect I intend to look at the way newspaper have developed over the past two centuries but I shall focus on the effect of increased competition between the Sun and the Mirror (and more recently the Star) from 1969 when Murdoch bought the Sun.  I will also look at the way newspapers are now being run not as hobbied (as they were prior to the late 1960s) but as businesses.  Additionally I will look at the increasing power of editors who have had much to do with the style and tone of the tabloids.

In the early part of the nineteenth century most newspapers were owed, as a contemporary Royal Commission remarked, “for the prestige and political and social influence their possession conferred” (quoted in Jenkins, 1986:15).  Politicians of both the Whig and Tory parties sought to buy loyalty and influence in the Press and many daily, evening and weekly newspapers grew under their patronage.  In its early days The Times received a subsidy from the Treasury of £300 a year.  The owner of the Political Register, despite being bankrupted by owning the paper, maintained that it was more influential than the “prattling mouth of politicians” (quoted in Jenkins, 1986:15).

Until the end of the nineteenth century newspapers tended to be local (the more famous based in London), the concept of a mass readership being largely confined to the Sunday Press.  Since the 1840s Sunday papers such as John Bull, Lloyds Weekly, Reynolds News and the News of the World had become popular, filling their pages with “a mixture of information, scandal and radical comment” (Jenkins, 1986:17).  One paper Bell’s Life in London (found in 1822) had the subtitle Sporting and Police Gazette and Newspaper of Romance.  The owners of this news-sheet discovered its circulation rising as it included more sports reports.  The paper held a monopoly on sports reporting until 1865 when Sporting Life also entered the field.  These papers gave news of forthcoming events and reported on previous ones featuring a number of sports from horse-racing and prize-fighting to the leisure activities of the gentry.  As the Sporting Life became one of the most widely read papers (with a circulation of 300,000 by 1880) other papers were prompted to include sports sections.

Content analysis of the Leicester Mercury undertaken by Murphy et al (1988) shows that the visual style of newspapers in the late 1800s was quite plain including column after column of tiny print only occasionally broken up by larger lettering.  Even these ‘headlines’ however seem to have been different from those of today, the aim, according to Murphy et al, being to inform, not to shock or titillate.  “It was a uniformity unbroken by photographs and relieved only by the odd cartoon” (Murphy et all, 1988: 41).  It seems not unreasonable to speculate that the national and local Press employed a relatively similar style at that time.

In the 1870s there were some important technological developments.  The Hoe and Walter rotary presses were introduced.  Simply, these presses involved a series of plated cylinders which printed on both sides of a continuous reel of paper and then folded them.  Each press could produce in the region of 12,000 copies an hour.  Previous presses could barely produce 1,000 copies.  Also there was the development of the wire telegraph which made the availability of results and reports much faster and easier therefore allowing sport to be more easily and thus more frequently included in daily national newspapers.

From the 1880s The Times began to concentrate on cricket and the more popular papers on Association football.  The ever expanding rail network allowed the newspaper owners of the time to distribute editions of their paper faster and more cheaply than ever before and thus to exploit the increasing market that was developing with the mass literacy.  Unlike in other countries Britain’s major papers began to congregate around one city, London.  There are several reasons for this.  Britain is, geographically speaking relatively small and London is a particularly dominant capital city.  Also the majority of the British population live close to the LondonBirminghamManchesterGlasgow road and rail routes.

At this time most proprietors also took on the role of editor-in-chief thereby deciding the content of their papers.  Using this role, these “Press Lords” (Tunstall, 1996: 80) such as Lord Beaverbrook, Baron Northcliffe, and Viscount Rothermere saw their papers as extensions of the party they supported or as a means of political sea-change.  It is important to note that even at this relatively early stage of newspaper development proprietors sought to use different types of marketing techniques as sales devices.  For example the weekly newspaper Titbits owned by George Newnes ran several competitions to attract readers.  These ranged from a “Titbits house’ in Dulwich to insurance cover for life as weekly prizes.  One campaign promoted automatic railway accident cover to any purchaser of the paper.  Such techniques were soon taken up by Newnes’ competitions.  A weekly paper called Answers was established by Alfred Harmsworth and his publication ran rival competitions with prizes such as £2 a week for life.

Harmsworth went on to build what was, for a time, Britain’s largest newspaper empire.  In 1896 he launched the Daily Mail as a daily version of Titbits and Answers.  It was the first paper to declare an advertising rate per 1,000 copies sold.  It played on the acquisitive aspirations of its readers and married them with the aspirations of consumer goods advertisers.  By using telephones an edition of the Mail was also produced in Manchester and by the turn of the century the paper was selling on million copies.

In 1903 Harmsworth established the Daily Mirror, a paper aimed at women (the first issue came free with a gilt and enamel hand-mirror).  The paper was not, however, a success and in 1914 Harmsworth gave it to his brother Harold.  Eventually sales of the Mirror overtook those of the Mail.  Murphy et al recognise a distinct change in the style of newspapers from 1914 onwards.  The number of advertisements and photographs rose and the size of both print and headlines grew.  In short “there was more white and less black” (Murphy et al, 1988: 50).  This change in style meant that there was less space for stories.  This coupled with a desire for a more attractive presentation meant that:

editors generally were both able and constrained to indicate their priorities and concerns by being more selective about stories and giving them differential emphasis to a great extent than had previously been the case (Murphy et al, 1988:51).

As sports coverage increased in the daily national Press, a more American ‘gossipy’ style of journalism emerged in this field.  During the inter-war period the circulation of the popular Sunday papers increased and a not insignificant part of this success was due to the sports reports which had begun to emphasise speculation and ‘idle’ dressing-room chat.  Whilst it would perhaps be somewhat facile to argue that sports governing bodies and newspapers had symbiotic interests it is clear there were mutual benefits to:

those with an interest in exploiting the mass spectatorship potential of sports and those who could sell newspapers with stories about sport (Cashmore, 1990:143).

Equally as Goldlust (1987:72) argues:

the attention paid by the daily Press to the world of sport, […has] served to assist the successful development of high-performance sport as commercially saleable product.

Indeed by the early 1950s the Sunday paper The People was devoting 20 per cent of its pages to sport (Mason, 1994/5:80).

Guy Bartholomew as editor of the Daily Mirror from 1934 to 1952, was convinced, as were other editors of the popular papers, the people preferred to look at rather than read papers.  Thus he made a rule that no Mirror story should extend beyond 100 words.  He was disinterested in politics and believed his readers felt the same.  This led a contemporary journalist on the Daily Herald (the predecessor of the Sun and at the time a supporter of the Labour party) to write that the Mirror:

demanded a new race of journalists with none of the inhibitions ruling in other newspapers […] a frenzied gusto in dredging the news for sensational stories of sex and crime and a complete lack of reticence in dealing with them (quoted in Jenkins, 1986: 40).

This new form of competition affected the character of and the tone that newspapers took.  The broadsheets prospered by offering more in-depth coverage than television.  The tabloids placed themselves as a complement to television relying on more sensationalistic reporting in both the sports pages and the other sections.  The ‘middle range’ tabloids (such as the Daily Express, Daily Mail, the News Chronicle and Today) fared worse.  Such papers relied much on placing dramatic news on the nation’s doorstep in the morning.  However television was starting to provide such news the night before.  Nor could these papers supply regionally specific advertising space as could the commercial television channels.

Indeed, while television’s effect on newspaper circulation as a whole seems to have had little effect, these ‘middle range’ papers have clearly been hit.  In 1948 they held 60 per cent of the daily market.  This dropped to 47 per cent in 1965 and to just 17 per cent in 1986.  Thus tabloids papers thrived by pursuing ‘human interest’ stories.  Such coverage combines what Tuck (1992:39) refers to as “Amplified language, clichés and behind the scenes scandals with silly photos […]”.  Television companies are required by law to unbiased and are regulated by bodies like Independent Television Commission and the Public Charter (for ITV and the BBC respectively) they are also influenced by a heavy reliance on advertising.  The tabloids however are more or less unaffected by such constraints and can thus afford to be negative in their coverage.

In January 1969 Murdoch finalised his purchase of the News of the World having beaten off the rival bid of Robert Maxwell.  This gave Murdoch 40 per cent of the shares.  With six months he was the major shareholder and was therefore in sole control of the paper.  The News of The World was published at Bouverie Street off Fleet Street.  While producing five million copies a week every Saturday night, the presses remained idle for the rest of the week.  Murdoch thus sought to purchase a daily paper and the opportunity arose in April 1969 when Cecil King’s International Publishing Corporation (IPC) announced they were to sell their loss-making Sun – the renamed Daily Herald.  Robert Maxwell was the first to make an offer.  He proposed to prevent it closing, to transfer ownership to a non-profit making trust and to keep it as a broadsheet.

This cost-cutting plan however meant that there would be redundancies.  Immediately the print unions announced that, should Maxwell gain control of The Sun, there would be strike action at other IPC papers.  Murdoch saw this as a opportunity.  He met Richard Briginshaw the chairman of the national Society of Operative Printers Assistants (NATSOPA) and promised fewer redundancies than Maxwell.  Murdoch duly purchased The Sun in November 1969 for £800,000. From this point on the style of the popular press certainly changed.  Some would argue it was ‘revolutionized’ others that it was taken ‘down-market’.  It is not my purpose to discuss this but merely highlight what changes occurred and hopefully explain why they happened.

Murdoch introduced a more businesslike approach to the running of his papers than had previously been the case within the industry.  Those involved in the running of papers became increasingly aware of the importance of both advertising and circulation revenue.  Tabloids such as the Sun, Mirror and Star rely heavily on circulation revenue.  In 1993 the Sun obtained 70 per cent of its revenue from this source (Tunstall, 1996: 13).  Thus these papers are heavily dependent on sales revenue and a continuing ‘sales war’.  It is also important to be the ‘market leader’ - the paper which has the highest circulation in its section of the overall market. as this means that the paper is able to charge more per 1,000 copies for advertising than its rivals.  Tunstall (1996: 12-13) argues that as the broadsheets rely more heavily on advertising revenue (mainly from advertisements of expensive consumer goods), they seek to maintain their affluent, well educated readership.  This in turn leads to a polarization of style and content between the ‘upmarket’ broadsheets and the ‘downmarket’ tabloids.

In his book Sunrise Larry Lamb, Murdoch’s first editor at the Sun states that both he and Murdoch agreed that the Sun, now free from IPC, could be a direct rival to the Mirror.  Both felt the Mirror had “grown old along with the wartime generation of newspaper readers who had taken its sales to five million” (Lamb, 1989:11).  For example when in 1967 other papers such as the Mail and Express were giving sensationalistic coverage to the Moors Murders case the Mirror played it down (Tunstall, 1996: 43).  Both Murdoch and Lamb felt this left a huge gap in the market and that the Sun should take on a style similar to that of the Mirror during the editorship of Guy Bartholomew, a style also used by successful Sunday papers such as the News of the World.  Lamb described it as “strident, campaigning, working class, entertaining but politically aware, a thorn in the flesh of the Establishment,” (Lamb, 1989: 5).

Murdoch and Lamb also felt that television should not be seen as rival medium, and to this day most of the tabloids continue to advertise on television.  The Sun was to change from a broadsheet to a tabloid format in order to directly rival the Mirror.  It was also at this time that the white-on-red Sun logo was designed by Lamb.

The style of the paper was very much based on that of the Mirror.  There would be countless

Hooks for the eye – graphics, montaged photos and variable column widths, WOB (white ob black) and WOT (white on tone) headlines […] (Chippindale & Horrie, 1990: 18)

Not only was there a deliberate attempt to include gossipy, behind-the-scenes features and stories, but in some areas (such as sport) this was more-or-less forced upon the writes of the Sun.  The sports pages of all the tabloids are a major battlefield for the circulation war.  Frank Niklin, the Sun’s first sports editor, promised that coverage would have “[…] four rows of teeth.  And its bite will be as big as its bark,” (quoted in Lamb, 1989: 144).  Due to the fact that the Sun was printed only in London, initially there were problems in printing reports of evening football matches from other parts of the country such as Manchester, Liverpool and Tyneside.  Thus the sports pages were filled with features; personality pieces such as columns by George Best and Brian Clough and nostalgic articles about past sportsmen.

Until this point a comprehensive, and regionalised results service was seen as essential to the success of a paper.  However, the Sun’s approach appeared to work.  The readers could find the results on television and look in the paper for ‘the stories’.  Lamb claims that when the paper was able to publish reports of night matches in the North some “readers complained about missing their ‘fix’ of football gossip and chit-chat,” (Lamb, 1989: 148).

In this period ‘the editor’ became a far more powerful figure.  Papers were owened by multi-national corporations.  Their owners, as chief executives (such as Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Conrad Black) would have a close relationship with their editors.  But their editors would also have a large degree of autonomy.  The editor was carefully chosen by the chief executive, and would thus have very similar views and ideas.  For example Andrew Neil and Kelvin MacKenzie were chosen by Murdoch despite having relatively little senior editorial experience.  Part of the motivation for hiring such ‘unknowns’ was that they were both pro-Thatcher, more importantly perhaps they knew their job relied on the patronage of their boss – their autonomy had limits.  Suffice to say the editor would have a strong character and a high degree of decision making power within the paper.

Maxwell at the Mirror seemed to be more involved than other owners.  Richard Stott who was editor between 1985 and 1992 has said (cited in Tunstall, 1996: 129) that most of Maxwell’s intervention came in the first year of his editorship.  When sales dropped by eight per cent Maxwell began to interfere less with editorial detail.  Thus the chief executives of such companies took a more strategic interest in running the business leaving the editors to take the editorial lead.

The move away from Fleet Street by all the papers in 1986 (which I shall discuss more fully below) also increased competition.  The relocation cut costs dramatically thereby increasing profits.  However it also led to the launch of more papers with more sections.  This in turn created greater competition for what advertising revenue was available, as well as for readers who now had a larger choice.

Due to this increase in competition the circulation war intensified.  First the Star then the Sun, the Mirror and the Daily Mail introduced bingo card games to attract readers (Grose 1989: 89-93).  Thus sensationalization of the Press also increased because of the competition.  Again I do not wish to overstate the role of any one individual in this process of increasing sensationalization but it does seem that MacKenzie as one of the new, more powerful, editors influenced the development more than most.  He instilled into his staff the motto “shock and amaze on every page” (Chippindale and Horrie 1990: 93) and encouraged them to “monster [their] victims” and “piss all over them,” (Chippendale & Horrie, 1990: 309).

A prime example is MacKenzie’s use of a photo of a rape victim on the front page of the Sun in 1988 (the only attempt to hide her identity was a think black line over her eyes, which was insufficient).  Until then this had never been done and there was an unwritten rule among papers not to identify victims of such crimes however it was not illegal.  When the photo was published the victim was not named however enough other details were printed to make identification possible.  At the time, total anonymity for the victim of an alleged sex offence began only after the defendant had been charged and not from the point at which the allegation had been made and the victim could be identified if it was thought that could help catch the alleged perpetrator.  The Sun used this public interest argument in its defence and while the Press Council condemned the incident no action was taken and MacKenzie refused to issue an apology. (Chippendale & Horrie, 1990: 301-303).

MacKenzie’s influence was also apparent during the Falklands War.  Whilst the Mirror took a cautious anti-force, pro-negotiation line the Sun was fervently patriotic.  MacKenzie (quoted in Harris, 1983: 50) wrote a Sun leader starting with the line “There are traitors in our midst,” referring to Mirror journalists.  The Sun under MacKenzie’s editorship produced some of the best-remembered features of the war.  The headline “GOTCHA” (quoted in Harris, 1983: 48) was used after the sinking of the Belgrano and two days prior to that “STICK THIS UP YOUR JUNTA! A Sun Missile for Galtieri’s gauchos” referring to a Sun sponsored missile with “Up Yours, Galtieri” painted on the side (quoted in Harris, 1983: 47).

Editors of the tabloids are not averse to printing stories that have been fabricated not to using photos of one event claiming they are of another.  Wesley Clarkson (1990: 201-202) outlines how in 1980 he wrote a feature on the comdedian Dick Emery.  Reading through a draft copy, Emery supposedly said:

You’ve made all this up.  I didn’t say a word of it.  I’m not signing any of this garbage.  Go away and come back with what I told you – not these lies […] none of this is true.

Clarkson’s reply was simply: “Look, mate, you either want £35,000, or you don’t”.  The article was subsequently published.  More recently the Daily Mirror published a photograph supposedly showing Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles at their Welsh ‘hideaway’.  However, the picture had in fact been taken six years previously at Balmoral (Private Eye, 6th September 1996).

Such a style of writing is the result of an imaginary dialogue with a generalized other – the Sun reader.  The Sun is pitched at the young.  At its outset it claimed that it would be “young, new, virile” and “[…] on the side of youth,” (Lamb, 1989: 26).  However the older reader is not forgotten.  When a features writer suggested an article on legalising marijuana MacKenzie replied:

You don’t understand the reader, do you, eh?  He’s the bloke you see in the pub – a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he’s afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and the weirdos and drug-dealers.  He doesn’t want to hear about that stuff! (quoted in Chippindale & Horrie 1990: 148).

This statement is a clear indication that despite the declared intention in the first issue of Murdoch’s Sun that the paper “[…] tries to judge political issues as they arise.  On their merits,” (Lamb, 1986: 27) those who produce a paper are all too aware that these judgements must be acceptable to the readers.

By trying to encourage this ‘typical’ reader to buy the paper there are two things that Wagg has noticed about the style of coverage in the Sun and the Mirror (Wagg, 1991: 223-225).  Firstly whilst there is conventional news – usually on page two – the papers are not newspapers as such.  They instead deal with publicity; that is both the public and private lives of famous people.  Thus the papers seek neither to report nor explain serious events, those are for the broadcast media.  The papers are not in competition with television they are television-led.  When EastEnders was launched in 1985 the Sun ran a story on the soap almost every day (the Mirror running more-or-less as many about Coronation Street).  This year (1996) there has been a story in the Sun about a character in Coronoation Street, Liz MacDonald, under the headline “AGONY OF STREET LIZ”.  Along with a photo of the bruised character, the article read:

This horrific picture shows the battered face of Coronation Street’s Liz MacDonald after she is brutally attacked by husband Jim. (The Sun, 26th February 1996).

The article was written as if it were a real news story and it is only in the second paragraph that  reader with only a passing knowledge of Coronation street would realise the article referred to a character not the actress herself.

Secondly, sport is vital to the newspapers’ large circulation.  As Grose (1989: 80) puts it:

Vast numbers of Sun readers start the paper at the back.  To them the back page is the front page – which is why it is laid out to look exactly like it with familiar red Sun logo, big headline, sensational stories and all […].  In fact when the sports writers talk about ‘the front of the book’ they mean the back.

Both the Sun and the Mirror cover football and horse racing – popular working-class sports with much television coverage.  The desire for female readers leads to coverage of soccer stars’ love lives – thought to interest women.  However the sports reportage is still very much in the tone of what Wagg calls “impatient, reactionary saloon-bar masculinity that was established in the 1950s,” (Wagg, 1991: 225).  Thus sports writers such as Harry Harris and Nigel Clarke of the Mirror and Brian Woolnough and John Saddler of the Sun (among others) are watching the England football team expecting a standard of play befitting the nation that invented the sport.  This style of reporting, in part, leads to the discourses we shall see later where a bad performance is seen as ‘letting the country down’ and clear distinctions are made between the English and foreigners.

At both the Sun and the Mirror the sports department has the biggest annual budget – around £4m (Tunstall, 1996: 211).  Such a large annual budget is required for foreign travel while covering British teams playing abroad and also to ‘sign up’ star names as columnists.  During Euro ’96 for example the Sun has Alex Ferguson and Kevin Keegan as columnists, while the Mirror has Sir Alf Ramsey.  Tunstall (1996: 211-214) has identified the sports department in the tabloids as almost a mini-paper within a paper.  It is usually the section to which the editor pays least attention, although the sports editor will be carefully chosen.  As I mentioned, the sports section has its own front page (the newspaper’s back page) and stories are presented in a hierarchy of importance (the most important closest to the back of the newspaper).

It is clear to see then that the processes of sensationalisation that have developed within the tabloid papers (although I have concentrated on the Sun many other have followed suit) have developed under the influence of the consequences (both intended and unintended)of various configurations.  These have ranged from the increasing competition among papers, as well as competition between ‘the Press’ and ‘television’, to simple technological difficulties.  Indeed the circulation war which papers such as the Sun and the Mirror are locked into, could be referred to as a ‘double-bind figuration’ (Elias 1987 cited in Dunning 1992: 233).  Put simply those involved have a mutual, and mutually escalating, fear of those on the other side.  A similar situation arose during the Cold War, leading to an increasing escalation in the stock-piling of weapons.  In the ‘tabloid circulation’ war it has led to an increase in sensationalisation.

Another important process in the study of newspapers is the shift to the political right.  The processes discussed above have led to a sensationalist way of dealing with, for example, player misbehaviour.  The shift to the right, on the other hand, leads to a specific type of treatment of the teams of other countries as well as a pining for England’s supposed ‘glory days’ from the past.  While there is a danger of overstating the power and roles of individuals there is also a danger of understating them.

The tabloid papers, their owners and editors are also locked into power relationships with politicians.  The Mirror has for a long time been essentially a Labour-supporting paper and when Murdoch bought the Sun it too was left-wing.  However this changed under Lamb and Murdoch.  In an article at the end of the first week of production Lamb declared that “The Sun has no party politics.  It tries to judge political issues as they arise.  On their merits,” (Lamb, 1986: 27).  Later on in his book (1986: 165), Lamb claims that, despite widespread opinion, the paper was not a tool of the politicians.

In this context he was referring specifically to the Sun’s support of the Conservative party leader Margaret Thatcher in 1979, but he argues instead that it was Thatcher who was used by the papers to destroy the unions.  However the relationship with Thatcher, and indeed with other party leaders through the years, was far more complex.  In short, it was a finely balanced power relationship which both enabled and constrained the two parties involved.  While at times the balance may have been skewed in favour of one party neither would have total power nor total control.

After the 1966 General Election, independent research conducted by the (defeated) Conservative party found that the electorate was far more volatile than many politicians believed.  Many voters were ‘weak’ supporters of the two major parties with no strong ideological commitment – they voted for the lesser of two evils.  In marketing jargon they were known as ‘C2s’, concentrated in about 80 constituencies, many of them marginal.  The Sun also with no firm ideological commitment had much appeal to such people.  This then gave Murdoch a good bargaining stance.

Harold Wilson was the first to gain Murdoch’s support.  Wilson, as a Labour Prime Minister, had influence over both the print unions and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which could prove useful to Murdoch.  Thus the Sun duly told its readers that Wilson had the best team and that Labour was the best party however Wilson lost the election.  The new Government, led by Edward Heath, seemed unable to deal with the Unions who, with the rise of inflation, sought high pay increases.  This led Murdoch away from Heath’s government.  As voting patterns (especially among C2s) became more negative the Sun refused to back either party.  Before the February 1974 election the paper described the choice as being between “the Devil and the Deep-Blue Sea,” (Chippindale & Horrie, 1990: 51).  Prior to the October 1974 election a Sun headline read “WE’RE SICK OF THE TED AND HAROLD SHOW!” (Chippindale & Horrie, 1990: 51).

Wilson won both elections but his dealings with the Unions, increasingly strengthened by continuing inflation and by Wilson’s ‘Social Contract’, placed the Press in dire economic straits.  Inflation and the falling value of the pound doubled newsprint prices between 1970 and 1975 and the print unions had a very strong position.  Quite simply if union members did not do their job the paper would be printed late, thereby missing trains and thus arriving at the newsstands late.  Also the union members complained at the new style paper.  Accustomed to rows of straight up-and-down type they were not used to Lamb’s approach, sometimes refusing to print what was asked. (For a fuller explanation of this complex situation, see Lamb 1986: 195-211; Tunstall 1996: 18-30; Jenkins 1996: 73-96).

Motivated by these factors, among others, Lamb and Murdoch “pulled the paper […] right across the political spectrum,” (Lamb 1986: 158).  Lamb argues that the decision to support Thatcher was not reached by Murdoch “without pain” (both coming from socialist backgrounds), Murdoch’s biography reiterates the point (Shawcross 1993: 209-210).  However from a business point of view supporting Thatcher was hugely enticing.  Murdoch’s was not the only newspaper company that would benefit from Thatcher coming to power.  She was determined to curb the Trade Unions, and had plans for the economy that would benefit the newspaper industry.

Government deregulation of the financial services helped fund the boom in the value of the Reuters news agency.  When the agency was floated on the Stock Market in 1984 each national Press group, all of which owned a slice of the agency, gained a cash windfall.  News International’s share was in the region of £125 million (this equated to about 11 per cent of Reuters).  The property boom of the mid-1980s which raised the value of Fleet Street properties meant that, coupled with cash from the Reuters floatation, companies had the funds to start investing in plants at Wapping.  Thatcher, who was a keen supporter of the rejuvenation of the East London Docklands area enabled the Press companies to obtain cheap sites for their new plants (Tunstall, 1996: 19 & 22).

As has already been mentioned, Thatcher was determined to reform the Trade Unions and reduce their power.  Her Government thus introduced three separate pieces of legislation in Parliament in 1980, 1982 and 1984.  These were first used during the Miners Strike but they helped make the move to Wapping much easier for the paper companies.  There was a large police presence at Wapping.  Some estimates say there were around 1,000 police on duty for the first 300 days of the dispute (Tunstall, 1996: 22).  In the courts the unions also suffered.  The largest union, the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) was fined and had its assets seized in February 1986.  These measures helped many newspaper companies although Murdoch’s papers had much to do with the general shift in tone to the right.  On a more personal level Thatcher intervened to allow Murdoch to acquire the Times and the Sunday Times without reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission with the Trade Secretary John Biffen defending the decision by saying that blocking Murdoch’s bid for the papers could lead to the loss of 4,00 jobs.

There were other circumstances, however, which also led to the shift to the right.  When Thatcher came to power the tabloid Press was already becoming increasingly personalised.  Thatcher recognised this, indeed she may have even contributed to it.  When she became opposition leader she consciously worked on her image.  Professional public relations advice that she took meant that she focused her attention on television and the broadsheets while more-or-less ignoring the broadsheets.  Not only, as has been discussed, did proprietors like her ideas but also many of the increasingly powerful editors, such as Larry Lamb (Sun), John Junor (Sunday Express), David English (Daily Mail) and Nicholas Lloyd (Daily Express) were committed to her ideas and ideals on a personal level.  Indeed Lamb and Thatcher worked very closely together.  Thatcher, along with her advisors, “began to drop in on Lamb’s ‘chewing the fat’ sessions after the first edition had gone away in the early evening” (Chippendale & Horrie 1990: 56).  In turn Sun staff advised the Conservative Party leadership on campaign strategy (Grose 1989: 37).  On election day in 1979 the Sun ‘voted’ Conservative for the first time and printed a 1,700-word leader imploring its readers to do the same.  The Conservatives won the election with 43.9 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 36.9 per cent.  Among the C2s there had been a nine per cent swing – nearly double the national average of 5.1 per cent.  The role of the Press in such a situation is hard to judge, However Thatcher sent Lamb what he describes as a “charming” thank you letter and, in 1980, he was knighted.

Tunstall argues that the Murdoch papers were highly important in the general shift to the right.  Yet Murdoch did not only support the Conservative party for the facts mentioned above.  Tunstall (1996:251) points out that Murdoch may simply have liked to have been seen to “back winners”.  More importantly in 1978 the Daily Star was launched making the tabloid battle a three-way one.  At that time only the Mirror was explicitly supporting a political party (Labour) and the Sun had only just overtaken the Mirror’s circulation.  Had the Sun remained politically non-committal it would have left the way open for the Star to be the only working-class daily right wing paper.  It would seem support for Thatcher in 1979 and again in the 1983 General Election came, from the Sun at least, because of a fear from the Star and a desire to see a set of beneficial economic policies implemented.

Support for the Conservative Party in 1987 and 1992 had been described as “a thank you [to Thatcher] and a honeymoon period for John Major” respectively.  One of the major consequences of this skew to the right has been that the Sun has shown that it can be both biased against Labour and have a right-wing editorial policy and yet still have a large readership among Labour supporters, thus maintaining its position as market leader (see Figure 4).

Due to the competitive nature of the industry other newspapers have adopted a similar style to the Sun.  The Daily Mirror may support Labour on it political page but it has nevertheless swung to the right elsewhere, in tone at least.  Indeed it is becoming harder to say which papers are ‘Conservative’ and which are ‘Labour’.  In July 1995 the Labour party leader Tony Blair was invited to Hayman Island to address News Corporation’s triennial conference (Rawnsley, 1995).  In the same year, the Sun printed more articles by Blair than any other newspaper (Linton, 1995), yet it has also published articles by Conservative Prime Minister John Major and Alan Simpson, an MP on the left of the Labour party (White: 1996).  Indeed the Mirror was, during the 1980s at least, closer to the SDP/Liberal Alliance than to the Labour party (Hollingworth, 1986:286).

This general shift to the right in tone has led to two clear discourses being used in the Press in general but in the tabloids explicitly.  Firstly there is a pining for a ‘golden age’ when things seemed much better and a lamenting of the current national malaise.  Secondly there are clear nationalist overtones.  On the ‘news’ pages this is often directed at the European Union and on the ‘sports’ pages, during Euro ’96 at least, this was directed at opposition teams and fans.  Whilst it was more subtle in the general reporting of foreign teams’ matches (reporting which does not form part of this study) it was, as we shall see, explicit when directed at England’s opponents.

Part three, which discusses The Sun and The Mirror's coverage of Euro '96 will be published tomorrow.

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