It’s been yet another telling week in the topsy-turvy world of newspaper journalism. After the prolonged roasting of the tabloids at the Leveson inquiry, the Daily Mail fought back mightily this week following two murder convictions in the Stephen Lawrence murder trial.
For it was the Mail — that guardian of middle England so loathed by Britain’s left — that breathed fresh life into the Lawrence imbroglio in 1997.
In a classic front page, the Mail branded five suspects as “Murderers”, adding: “The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us.”
It was a classic front page in the J’accuse tradition, but Mail editor Paul Dacre admitted waking in a sweat at 4 o’clock that morning, despite swallowing a sleeping pill, knowing the risks he was taking.
In the end it was a brilliant move, playing a key role in righting an horrific wrong, and also broadening the Mail’s brand away from the shires and into the diverse new country that Britain was then becoming.
The Mail’s unexpected ardour dramatically reignited the affair. And, true to form, Dacre never let up, keeping the Justice for Stephen Lawrence campaign alive over the 14 intervening years until the trial.
As it turns out it has also become a timely example of tabloid journalism at its best. In the wake of this week’s convictions, even the Guardian praised the Mail’s stance, with columnist Jonathan Freedland noting the affair was a reminder the popular press has an important role as “true democracy cannot leave knowledge in the hands of the elite few, is has to be spread widely”. He added: “Britain needs its popular press now more than ever.”
Leveson will, of course, resume hearings and we can expect to hear of more tabloid shenanigans. But it could well be that the path to tabloid salvation lies less in the death of sleaze and more in the resurrection of good old- fashioned tabloid journalism of the kind squeezed out by the cult of celebrity that seized Fleet Street in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, a reader who wishes to be known as ‘Andrew, Portadown’, rightly takes me to task for my tardiness in replying to his email.
He wrote in asking me to quiz the Editor about why we don’t publish radio listings in Weekend magazine’s TV section.
The prime answer, Andrew, is reasons of space as it is thought people prefer more detail on TV programmes. But the Editor says that if there is a groundswell of opinion from readers he is happy to review the policy.