The sacking of Piers Morgan as editor of the Daily Mirror has been greeted with ululation from media commentators, former and existing editors and several newspapers. Piers, we are told by no less an authority than the legendary Harry Evans, was a great tabloid editor. My esteemed colleague Professor Roy Greenslade can barely be consoled. Mr Morgan’s defenders concede that the pictures he published which showed British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners may have been fakes, but it is claimed that they illustrate a wider truth. The only discordant voice I have heard amid the general wailing and gnashing of teeth is that of Martin Kettle in the Guardian.
What does this reaction tell us about the media class? Mr Morgan may have been a charming and lovable rogue but he was not, by any traditional yardstick, a great editor. No one has pointed out that during his nine-year stint at the Daily Mirror the paper mislaid a quarter of its circulation. In the six months before he became editor the paper’s average daily sale was 2,553,523; in the six months to April 2004 that figure had declined to 1,902,841. Is this the stuff of greatness? It is perfectly true that the Mirror has been sliding downhill for at least a quarter of a century. Its great rival the Sun has also lost sales over the past nine years, though to nothing like the same extent. Mr Morgan, however, has left his own mark.
If the managing director of a high street conglomerate lost 25 per cent of sales over nine years, he would be hounded by the newspapers, not least the Daily Mirror. But Mr Morgan’s performance is not even mentioned. Is it because the Mirror, though a commercial failure, is nonetheless editorially brilliant? It would be very difficult to argue so.