Why I (still) read the Daily Mail

Four years on, I’m still a Daily Mail reader (even if they think I’m a foreigner). Here’s an updated explanation.

I once rang the Daily Mail to mildly complain about a story I had a connection with. The journalist I spoke to put me on hold while he conferred with a colleague. At least, he thought he put me on hold. But courtesy of him hitting the wrong button, I got to hear what they were saying. And it wasn’t exactly a master class in concern for accuracy. Yet I still read the newspaper regularly.

Why? Because it would be foolish not to.

1. The Daily Mail is read by 4.6 million people, making it by some margin the most read daily national newspaper. And that’s without even getting into its website, which is now the most popular newspaper website in the world. 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 576,00 Daily Mail readers voted Liberal Democrat in 2010, a number only topped by the 796,000 or so Sun readers who voted Liberal Democrat. That Daily Mail figure is more than the equivalent figures for The Guardian and The Independent put together.

Daily Mail front page - Clegg in Nazi Slur3. The Daily Mail invests heavily in its journalistic resources. Whatever you may think of how they write-up their stories, its journalists frequently break stories due to having the time to do the old-fashioned legwork. Its record in breaking stories about dodgy Labour donations under Gordon Brown was 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 their 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 choose to run in the first place…


* Mark Pack is Party President and Co-leader of the party. He is editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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16 Comments

  • ………The Daily Mail is read by 4.6 million people, making it by some margin the most read daily national newspaper …………….

    Really? The statistics I came across suggest the ‘Mail’ has a circulation of 2,400,143 compared to that of the ‘Sun’ which has an average circulation of 3,121,000 copies every day.

    Whether or not the ‘Sun’ can be classed as a ‘News’ paper is doubtful but those appear to be the official figures…

  • Readership is different to circulation, Jason, based on sampling rather than sales figures (many papers are read by multiple people).

    That might explain the distinction?

  • Adam H…..Readership is different to circulation, Jason, based on sampling rather than sales figures (many papers are read by multiple people………

    True.

    However,according to the National Readership Survey, these are the most-read newspapers in the UK.

    This shows readership, and not sales, and these figures represent total adult readers of newspapers and supplements from January to December 2010.

    National daily newspapers

    1. The Sun (7,772,000 readers)
    2. The Daily Mail (4,741,000)
    3. The Daily Mirror (3,087,000)*
    4. Metro (3,287,000)
    5. The Daily Telegraph (1,680,000)
    6. The Times (1,565,000)
    7. Daily Star (1,571,000)
    8. Daily Express (1,427,000)
    9. The Guardian (1,103,000)
    10. The Independent (532,000)

    I find it impossible to believe that, in the last 12 months since the survey, the ‘Mail’ figures have remained the same and ‘Sun’ readership has halved…

  • Peter Chegwyn 2nd Feb '12 - 11:51am

    Jason – It would be good if The Sun readership has halved in the last 12 months

  • Peter Chegwyn………Jason – It would be good if The Sun readership has halved in the last 12 months….

    Wishful thinking. However, on the plus side, the “News of the World” readership fell by 100%

  • toryboysnevergrowup 2nd Feb '12 - 12:24pm

    Of course you should read, listen, talk to and annoy your enemies as such discourse is one of the many benefits of living in a democracy. I look forward to the reading between the lines guide to LibDem Pravda.

  • LondonLiberal 2nd Feb '12 - 2:13pm

    The Daily Mail makes me ashamed to be British. It represents, to me, all that is wrong in our nation – petty-minded xenophiobia, screaming hypocrisy, the triumph of emotion over reason, and titillation masquerading as news.

    While i would never seek to ban it, i would like to all its journalists to be put in stocks for at least an hour a week and allow anyone who wants to to throw whatever they like at them.

    I’m not even sure i’m joking.

  • Philip Young 2nd Feb '12 - 4:17pm

    I recall jumping into a train carriage only to suddenly stumble upon Liberal MP Russell Johnston, with his hush puppies resting on the seat opposite, reading the Daily Telegraph. “I dont need a newspaper to tell me how to think…I like the paper because it tells me what the Tories are thinking, and I like it for its news coverage.”

  • Paul McKeown 2nd Feb '12 - 5:40pm

    Yeah, the Daily Mail often seems nothing more than a parody of itself, but it does do a lot of real journalism, too.

    Meanwhile, which papers will the Lib Dems get to support it? The Guardian or Independent? Hmm, even when they liked the Lib Dems, seeing them as a sort of purer version of Labour, all cuddly, without the ugly bits, they were still very divided in their allegiances. Might I suggest the FT? It has long seemed to me the most liberal minded of the dailies, although I suspect that many readers of LDV might dislike it for being, well, “Orange Bookish”. But here’s what Tim Montgomerie (of ConservativeHome) wrote recently:

    The briefing was largely given to the FT (the best place to find out what civil servants and the yellow half of government are thinking).

    http://conservativehome.blogs.com/thetorydiary/2011/11/tory-anger-at-lib-dem-overspinning.html

    Apparently, I’m not the only one who sees the FT as a potential LD ally – and a profoundly influential one, at that.

  • Wasn’t it Oscar Wilde who said he didn’t read the Daily Mail because he’d rather read a newspaper?

    The only contact I want with the Daily Mail is below the waist.

  • andrew purches 3rd Feb '12 - 9:44am

    I,for one,cannot really comment on the virtues or otherwise of the Daily Mail as I do not read it, nor have I ever got further than the front page on a newsagent’s counter. Having said that though,I am instinctively inclined never to read the thing, and have no need to now that we have the only newspaper that truly reflects Lib Dem values at ground level for a very low 20p. a day and 30p. on Saturday. The Guardian is no more in our household, and the Cat eats for free now. I find it very suspect that quite so many Lib Dem supporters allegedly read the Mail and the Sun: if this is the case,then there is little hope for the Party electorally in the short term.

  • Kirsten de Keyser 3rd Feb '12 - 11:20am

    Let’s remind ourselves of the inimitable Jim Hacker and his astute analysis on the British press:
    The Times is read by the people who run the country.
    The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country.
    The Guardian is read by the people who think they ought to run the country.
    The Morning Star is read by the people who think the country ought to be run by another country.
    The Independent is read by people who don’t know who runs the country but are sure they’re doing it wrong.
    The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country – and Mark Pack.
    The Financial Times is read by the people who own the country.
    The Daily Express is read by the people who think the country ought to be run as it used to be run.
    The Daily Telegraph is read by the people who still think it is their country.
    And the Sun’s readers don’t care who runs the country providing she has big tits.

  • Dominic Carman 4th Feb '12 - 8:36am

    Mark,

    You are in good company. When I interviewed John Humphrys over dinner a few years ago, I asked him what newspaper he read most before hosting the R4 Today Programme.

    ‘Always the Daily Mail’ , he replied.

    ‘Why the Mail?

    ‘It has a remarkable capacity to know what Middle Britain is thinking’, said Humphrys with a saturnine smile.

    One should perhaps balance that comment with the words of fictional newspaper proprietor Charlie Kane from the 1941 film, Citizen Kane: ‘People will think what I tell them to think.’

    best Dominic

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Feb '12 - 11:52pm


    The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country.

    That was a VERY long time ago. There was a time when the heads of the big trade unions were household names, and jokes about them thinking they ran the country were common. Such jokes just don’t work now, because no-one supposes the remaining trade unions have any significant power.

    And the Sun’s readers don’t care who runs the country providing she has big tits.

    And didn’t THE Sun want to keep them thinking that way while subtly drip-feeding right-wing proganda to them, so while they might have thought they didn’t care, they found a strange compulsion to vote Tory? The fact that most Sun readers though it a “Labour paper” (this was some time ago, I am not sure if it applies now) was often raised as an argument against its political influence, but I see it the other way round – it shows how clever was that influence. Essentially, people from Labour-voting backgrounds still saw THE Sun as on “their side” even when it was urging them to vote Tory. If you’re “Labour because we always vote Labour” and someone you think of as naturally still “Labour” is urging you to vote Tory, aren’t you far more likely to do so than if someone you always thought of as a thorough Tory in the first place urges you to?

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Feb '12 - 12:27am

    On reading the Daily Mail, Mark Pack is quite right. Anyone involved in political campaigning is working with one hand tied behind their back if they do not read the stuff most ordinary people read, however horrible that might be. The Mail often approaches madness in the skewed way it reports things (I am not using the word “madness” here lightly – I mean it really does show alarming signs of delusion at times), yet if we are to get anywhere we have to accept there’s millions of people oiut there who think this madness is the truth.

    One thing about the Mail, it will occasionally turn and kick the power of big money in a way the Times and Telegraph never would. It knows its readership is not in that league and there are times where the contradiction between being truly conservative and being in support of the power of big money collide. It’s a way of keeping an essentially small-c conservative readership happily hating the left and supporting big-C Conservative Party politics if it occasionally goes on the conservative side in a conservative-Conservative battle.

    The left in this country does much to help it with this by the way it often gets obsessed with attacking small-c conservatism rather than the power of big money. There are times when a small-c conservative line can be successfully used to hit big money, but the political left in this country is, now so more than ever, so contemptuous of small-c conservatism and so lacking of an understanding of its mentality, that it never uses a smart right punch. Whereas the Mail is an expert at the smart left punch (in case this comes across as too obscure, I mean the ability to take a surprise line of attack on particular issues when it works for youyr target audience).

    A particularly fun game to play with the Mail is to pick a story in it and consider how the Mail would write it up if it were reporting the same facts but coming to the opposite conclusion. The game’s easy to play because quite often the Mail HAS taken the opposite line on something similar only recently. So, one day they’ll be moaning about “health and safety gone mad”, another day they’ll pick up on some minor sad incident and be demanding health and safety legislation to stop such incidents happening again.

    Another game to play with the Mail is to go through the articles and find how many of those which are essentially “why oh why … ?” have the real answer “because you would moan like hell at the level to which taxes would have to be raised to provide the public money needed to pay for it”. You can often find several in each issue.

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