Why I read the Daily Mail

A couple of people have commented to me about how I moderately frequently make blog postings based on a Daily Mail story and linking through to their site for the full story (such as this one about Vince Cable calling for an investigation into Keith Vaz) – and querying why attention should be given to what the Daily Mail writes.

Why indeed? Well, my reasons are:

1. The Daily Mail is read (on the 2005 figures I have to hand) by 5.7 million people, making it by some margin the most read daily national newspaper. You can’t be interested in what the media is saying and ignore it.

2. Very large numbers of Liberal Democrat voters read it: around 980,000 Daily Mail readers voted Liberal Democrat in 2005, a number only topped by the 1.1 million Sun readers who voted Liberal Democrat.* In comparison, there were only 250,000 Independent reading Liberal Democrat voters and 400,000 Guardian reading Liberal Democrat voters. So if you’re interested in politics, and in particular from a Liberal Democrat angle, all the more reason not to ignore the Mail.

3. The Daily Mail invests heavily in its journalistic resources. Whatever you may think of how they write-up their stories, the Mail’s journalists frequently break stories due to having the time to do the old-fashioned legwork. Its record in breaking stories about dodgy Labour donations is a classic example: the Mail unearthed the story because it sent journalists door-to-door calling on Labour donors until they found something.

4. And then there’s the question of how the stories are written up… In my view, all manner of stories end up being written up in a distorted manner, but you can usually do a reasonable job of extracting the truth from a Mail political story by:

  • Ignore the headline: it often exaggerates so much for effect that it doesn’t really match the story.
  • Read the first line to get what the story is about, and then read the story from the end upwards: there is often a defence included in the story towards the end which undermines what goes before. Although I’ve read plenty of Mail stories on political topics which I know about and thought the headline and first-half of the story was distorted, I’ve not (yet) come across one of these where the second-half didn’t provide the explanation as to why the story was wrong.
  • Watch out carefully for who is quoted to support the story. The usual structure of the political scandal story is to have a quote from an opposition politician, often calling for an inquiry. There are some, from all parties – such as Vince Cable in the example linked to above – who have a track record of only calling for an inquiry or condemning someone when they have very good grounds to. Then there are others seemingly will happily condemn something based on the merest prod of encouragement from a journalist.

Apply these three tests and you can do pretty well at getting to the truth of a Daily Mail political story. I’ve seen plenty of devastating demolitions of Mail political stories, but those have all been ones where these three tests had warned me already. Of course, one day there’ll be a story that breaks all these rules, and all this leaves aside the question of what stories to chose to run in the first place or stories about immigration…

* These figures are compiled from Kavanagh & Butler’s The British General Election of 2005 using the tables on p.120-1 and p.139. As they are based in part on polling data and also on matching up data from slightly different time periods, don’t place too much weight on them beyond the second significant figure but you can have confidence in the overall picture they paint.

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21 Comments

  • This is exactly why it annoyed me to hear people at conference (I watched on TV) use on more than one occasion the term “Daily Mail readers ” in a perjorative manner. People should realise that newspapers aren’t quite as successful as assimilating their readers as they would wish

  • Mark is absolutely right.

    If you work in politics and don’t read the Mail, fear for your seat / your candidates’ seat.

    Avoiding the Mail is liking pretending that most people don’t support hanging, pretending that people read our manifestos, or pretending that most of our voters are actually Liberals.

    About a third of my local Lib Dem COUNCILLORS regularly read The Daily HateMail, so it should hardly be surprising that a lot of Lib Dem voters do as well.

  • Political realities are a harsh thing, and I certainly do not advocate changing our mind or lying to people.

    But I’m not going to bother campaigning on an issue I know will go down badly with the public.

    To return to hanging for no particular reason, no PPC puts out leaflets saying how much they oppose capital punishment, yet all but a handful oppose it vehemently. Because it won’t win them votes. But they still vote against capital punishment when it comes to it.

    Reading the Mail will at least give you an idea of the kind of thing you are combatting, and what your voters are reading.

    Politics is an ugly business done (usually) for an honourable end. E.g. I hate the BNP as much as the next man, but I’m no longer surprised to meet BNP / Lib Dem swing voters when out canvassing.

  • Sorry to double post, but I would like to point out I write this as an ultra-libertarian who was once an idealist.

    Sadly, most people are not, as I quickly discovered. But baby steps work. Pragmatism works.

    Blair shied (shyed?) away from talking directly about improving the welfare state whilst massively (and in a stupidly overcomplicated way) extending the welfare state, to the point where a Tory or Lib Dem government would have real trouble reducing it to 1997-levels.

  • David Heigham 25th Sep '08 - 4:51pm

    For Heaven’s sake!

    In serious politics, always follow what opponents are saying and the twists that they are trying against you. And always be aware of all the important messages reaching the voters. I assume (hope and trust) that there are people in Cowley St. reading professionally everything from the Star upwards; listening to the most popular radio and watching at least some of the most popular TV (life is not long enough to watch a lot of it).

    Mark is right about the quality of the Mail’s basic journalistic effort, but the Sun and Sky may be even more worth his time.

  • Good mate of mine is a Mail journo. He told me that all the info in a story is in the first paragraph. It becomes less and less relevant the further along you go, so the sub can fillet it without losing any sense.

  • I think Mark has left out the most important reason.

    I read it occasionally to remind myself why I am a Liberal Democrat:-)

  • The Times doesn’t strike me as “serious”, not since Murdoch dumbed it down. The right always talk about declining standards & things being better than their day, but seemingly they raise no objections to this creature’s debasement of comment!

    I might well start reading the Telegraph, if it has emerged from its neocon phase, now you come to mention it. But The Times is what one of my lecturers once called it, “a 2:2 paper”. 🙂

    I used to read the Spectator, then tits like Charles Moore, Rod Liddle, James Delingpole etc enraged me too much to go on. I know the latter in particular is a wind-up merchant: well, here’s one person whose money he won’t be getting any more. The silly [expletive :)] kept trying to contact me about why I didn’t renew my subscription, without inferring the obvious conclusion.

    I tend to read blogs to tell me what the strands of the right are thinking. I read The Devil’s Kitchen (though only rarely because the hysteria does get tiresome), Letters From A Tory (my favourite of the Tories), The Nameless One, & Newmania (I don’t know why, but I quite like him). Though most of them strike me as not worth bothering with, especially the lesser Iain Dale 🙂

  • *bangs head repeatedly against brick wall*

    Can we please have a poll about this.

    If it’s seriously the case that most people reading/commenting on LDV (who are presumably overwhelmingly LibDem activists/councillors/campaigners/members) think that its a bad idea to read the Daily Mail then I might as well quit my membership, throw my toys out of the pram, take my bat and ball home, sulk, and basically give up the Lib Dems as a lost cause.

    For Darrell, stunned that a lot of our voters read the Mail: really? Certainly the Mail’s (oft-rabid) anti-establishmentism strikes a cord with many of our voters and indeed our policies. And they love Norman Baker.

    But then I notice from your blog that you believe The Economist to be right-wing (it is economically right-wing, but in social policy terms it is extremely left-liberal) so I’ll assume a degree of naivete on your part.

    p.s. Of course read it online, we’re reading a blog, who reading this actually buys newspapers these days?

  • Well if politicans are as cynical about the public/masses/middle classes as the Daily Wail is, they can all jolly well go and get stuffed!

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