Most people think the Daily Mail should apologise. But which people?

The Sunday Times commissioned a YouGov poll for this long-form feature about the fallout from the Mail/Miliband spat, prompted by a fairly unsubstantiated headline in this Mail piece 9 days ago. The Guardian picked it up today for non-Times subscribers). The YouGov polling is given in full on their website.

The polling shows, to quote the ST editorial:

[that] 72% of the public think the newspaper’s description of Ralph Miliband as “the man who hated Britain” was unacceptable and 69% believe the Mail should apologise. A majority of Mail readers, 57%, think it should apologise for its headline.

I have only one observation on this, which is that it is the 57% figure – not the 69% one – that matters.

The Mail has miscalculated here in regard to its reputation with readers (I was about to write ‘to its commercial interests’, but I can’t believe Mail readers will stop buying as a result). The Mail has found itself not only on the wrong side of public opinion, a position it can and has weathered, but on the wrong side of its readers, a mistake that an editor can surely only make once.

However the Mail/Mili dispute (I really don’t want to christen it with the suffix ‘gate’) is probably a rare example of a newspaper judging its readership incorrectly. British newspapers are general-interest but they do not cater to a general audience. Most are fiercely partisan and have a fairly homogeneous readership that they know well. They largely don’t care what non-readers think provided that readers are happy.

This point is key, I think, to understanding the unyielding attitude that newspapers have against public opinion. Take the well-organised and marketed ‘No More Page 3’ campaign, which I blogged about over the summer. It commands public sympathy but has totally failed to get through to the only constituency that matters – Sun readers.

David Dinsmore, the Sun editor, understands that. He told the BBC:

”We did a survey last year and found that two thirds of our readers wanted to keep Page 3. What you find is people who are against Page 3 have never read the Sun and would never read the Sun.”

Few, if any, ‘No More Page 3’ campaigners and supporters buy the Sun. Nor is it likely that they will start if the feature is scrapped. The Sun’s market isn’t The Guardian’s (young, feminist, left-wing and university-educated).

Criticism of a newspaper in short, is futile unless it originates or appeals to those who read and buy it.


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