Comment: Major newspaper merger and the evolving media backdrop

In the 1950s hey-day of the Daily Express and the Mirror, both were selling more than four million copies a day and, competition issues apart, with very different political outlooks, a merger of the two titles was unthinkable.

John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society

Sixty years on and the political gap is, if anything, wider, but the hard copy sales are at such a level that the acquisition of the Express and other titles from Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell by the Trinity Mirror group announced last week is unlikely to raise any eyebrows at the Competition and Markets Authority. The Mirror sold an average of 582,000 copies in December last year compared to 365,000 for the Express, while their Sunday stablemates sold 493,000 and 318,000 copies respectively. But when print is combined with online and mobile readership, the audiences, according to the National Readership Survey, are 24,078,000 for the Mirror and 12,907,000 for the Express. Add in the Daily Record (print sales 139,000, total readership 4,948,000) and the Daily Star (391,509 sales and 6,522,000 readership) and the scale is clear. Desmond will retain a minority holding in the company.

The new group will have choices in the Sunday market, where Trinity Mirror already has the Sunday People as well as the Sunday Mirror, and the Sunday Mail in Scotland, so throwing the Sunday Star into the mix as well as the Sunday Express will surely mean that some sort of consolidation is all but certain.

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But the sale also means titles long the problem children of the news industry will be back in the fold, something which Desmond seemed to have accepted in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry when his titles signed up to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which replaced the Press Complaints Commission.

Previously, Northern & Shell had walked out of the old trade association, the Newspaper Publishers Association, over unpaid subscriptions and had also withdrawn from the PCC over unpaid levies and also as a result of the fall-out from the successful defamation action brought against the Express by the family of Madeleine McCann. As well as an aggressively anti-EU stance, the Express’s editorial agenda has continued to be dominated by the McCann tragedy and conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Trinity Mirror chief Simon Fox has said he has no intention of pulling the Express to the left, which would only strengthen the Daily Mail, but it should mean content decisions based more on editorial judgment than the whims of the proprietor.

In Scotland, the once-mighty Scottish Daily Express is a shadow of its former self, now selling 38,000 copies compared to the 640,000 of its 1950s zenith, and a move from its Tyndrum Street offices in Cowcaddens to the Daily Record’s Central Quay headquarters is inevitable.

For Desmond, his days as a press baron have paid off. £125 million is roughly what he paid for the Express in 2000 and every year since the company has returned a healthy profit. As he might say, cushtie.

- John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society