'A friend to Middle Britain': Geordie Greig begins reign as Daily Mail editor

Taking over from Paul Dacre after 26 years, former Mail on Sunday editor signals ‘forward-looking’ approach

Geordie Greig began his reign as editor of the Daily Mail on Wednesday with a speech to staff in which he pledged to make the newspaper reflect the “values of decency and aspiration” and “do what it can to support and report an outstandingly positive Britain that is united, confident and successful”.

The new editor, who replaced Paul Dacre after his 26 years in charge, said he wanted the paper to be “forward-looking and valuing of our traditions” and use “persistence, ruthless cunning, polite persuasion and relentless drive” in a bid to overtake the Sun to become the best-selling daily newspaper in Britain.

"We will be a friend of the people, to Middle Britain and our loyal readers,” said Greig, according to a recording of the speech leaked to the Guardian.

“They and we cherish our extraordinary national character for its resilience, tolerance, generosity and humour. I will give you support and encouragement to make the paper the best. It will reflect the values of decency and aspiration as it always has and always will, and do what it can to support and report an outstandingly positive Britain that is united, confident and successful.”

The speech, which began with a tribute to his predecessors – including a recollection of Dacre sending a young Greig to Llanelli for 48 hours in search of a story – ended with a hymn of praise to his journalists and a declaration that “content is king”. It was greeted with applause, but some staff on the newspaper, many of whom are still loyal to Dacre, had mixed views that ranged from “odd” to “meaningless waffle”.

“If the paper becomes as boring as that speech we’re in trouble,” said one waspish Daily Mail staffer, underlining the scale of Greig’s challenge to win some of them over.

There has been enormous interest from across the political and media world in whether Greig, who edited the remain-supporting Mail on Sunday for six years, will soften the Daily Mail’s relentlessly pro-Brexit stance and, as a result, change the national debate on the issue. The paper’s front page often sets the tone of Downing Street’s morning news meeting. The BBC Radio 4 Today programme editor, Sarah Sands, said she was “very interested to see” whether the paper changed its approach.

Greig’s first print edition made little mention of Britain leaving the EU, although a handful of news stories buried on page 30 described a potential “Brexit boost” which could help Britain avoid a no-deal situation, and a story about former Bank of England governor Mervyn King branding Brexit preparations as “incompetent”.

The current intention, according to sources at the paper, is to back a “pragmatic Brexit” broadly in line with the government’s position, supportive of the Chequers deal and campaign for the least economically damaging approach to leaving the EU. Greig also had a role in persuading the archbishop of Canterbury to write for the paper in Tuesday’s edition.

Major questions remain over the continued influence of Dacre through his role as editor-in-chief of the wider Daily Mail group of newspapers and adviser to their owner, Lord Rothermere. Dacre always had a frosty relationship with Greig and has made it clear in public that the Daily Mail should not compromise its Brexit stance – and that he would not be cutting ties with the newspaper completely. However, Greig’s contract is thought to make it clear that he reports directly to Rothermere and has ultimate responsibility for the paper.

“There was never going to be an easy way to say goodbye and thank you,” Dacre wrote in a farewell note to Daily Mail staff, pinned to the office noticeboard at the end of last month. “Particularly as I am not leaving.”

After the Guardian reported that Rachel Johnson had been sacked from her Mail on Sunday column by the incoming editor, Ted Verity – a former deputy editor of the Daily Mail under Dacre – an executive at the group got in touch to insist that it would be wrong to draw any connection between Verity’s decision and Dacre’s stated hatred of her column. The executive made clear that the decision to sack Johnson, who was given a 12-month contract extension by Greig this summer, was Verity’s choice alone.

Staff at the Daily Mail – which still sells 1.3m copies a day – have privately raised doubts about whether Greig will maintain the same obsessive approach to the job as the outgoing editor. Dacre was known for being in the office until 10pm every day, fiercely protecting the newspaper’s budget and exerting individual control over minor details.

Greig, who rushed out of the office on the day of his final Mail on Sunday edition to be at the bedside of his dying friend the author VS Naipaul, is known for being relaxed in a crisis but stayed in the Daily Mail office until almost 11pm on his first day. Dacre’s old office has undergone a substantial refit to accommodate the new boss – with the faux-pine wood cladding ripped out and more light allowed in, while the walls are adorned with art by Gilbert & George and Greig’s friend Lucian Freud. While Dacre was known for retreating to his Scottish Highlands estate, former Tatler editor Greig prepared for the job by taking a holiday in Zimbabwe, which is being written up for the society magazine by his son Jasper – recently appointed as Tatler’s London editor.

The Old Etonian, who has taken fellow Old Etonian Tobyn Andreae with him to be deputy editor, is happy to be photographed at celebrity parties and mixes in the same circles as the Rothermeres. By comparison, Dacre was seen in the office as a strangely shy and reticent man, who would then slip into the persona of a much more forthright decision-maker.

He was known for striding the newsroom floor and picking up on minor details while recommending tweaks to headlines – work experience students were banned for fear they would be caught in one of his foul-mouthed rants, nicknamed the “vagina monologues” after the proliferation of his most commonly used swearword.

While other newspapers did their best to slash costs, he continued to run an old-school operation with comparatively lavish commissioning budgets and expense accounts. In addition to shaping the paper’s news agenda and front pages he focused heavily on its features section – which he believed was ultimately responsible for the paper’s sales rather than its bellicose political coverage – “checking every headline and subhead”.

Paul Dacre.
Paul Dacre. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/REX

Two ruthlessly competitive features desks go head-to-head every day to produce a list of potential ideas to interest the editor. Even after the pieces are commissioned – often at a cost of thousands of pounds each in freelance fees and photo research – and fully laid-out ready to go to print, many are discarded at the last minute in the quest to produce the perfect paper for middle England sensibilities.

Journalists fear these budgets could be cut as accountants move in, while the fierce rivalry between the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday could be undermined by an increased sharing of back-office functions.

Privately, Dacre is said to blame the backlash over his infamous November 2016 “Enemies of the People” front page attacking high court judges for contributing to his departure, with the Rothermere family thought to be embarrassed by the newspaper’s tone on Brexit.

Greig, by comparison, mixes in a similar, wealthy social circle to the Rothermeres, having become editor of London’s Evening Standard in 2009 after convincing owner Alexander Lebedev’s son, Evgeny Lebedev, to buy the outlet from the Rothermeres and then install him in the top job. When leaving the Mail on Sunday last month he was given a “Daily Mail survival kit”, which included a mask of Dacre to motivate his staff to work.

Much of the discussion in the Daily Mail office among the Dacre loyalists has centred around a seemingly well-informed piece written under the byline “John Smith” for the Conservative Woman website in July, which reflects the views of several staff members that Dacre quit “under sufferance and that he is increasingly candid about this”.

The piece suggested Greig’s “abilities as the editor of a mid-market tabloid are somewhat lacking” as he “has too many friends in high places to be a really good editor” and holds “the sort of vaguely leftwing opinions that those born into money can afford”. The author said the Daily Mail would become a “kinder, softer, less probing and less interesting newspaper” under his editorship.

Although Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, publicly suggested the piece was the work of parliamentary sketchwriter Quentin Letts, the journalist told the Guardian he had no involvement and said he had accepted Greig’s “kind invitation” to remain at the Daily Mail.

Greig’s speech to Daily Mail staff:

“The Mail believes fervently that it must be the most successful newspaper and use persistence, ruthless cunning, polite persuasion and relentless drive to get the story first, to be ahead of our competitors, in essence to be part of the finest journalistic team anywhere.

"The Mail was also always hard-hitting and agenda-setting. Then and today there is a beyond brilliant newsroom, and of course legendary features and Femail teams, absurdly award-winning sport, impossible-not-to-read star columnists, and subs who are the guild of craftsmen of our industry. Of course not forgetting pictures, City, and all the rest, nor all the paper's truly exceptional executives. That will not change under my watch.

"I feel both humbled and privileged to be the 18th editor of the Daily Mail. I know that change can bring uncertainty and I want to reassure that under my editorship the Daily Mail will remain tough, fair, potent and persuasive, always surprising and entertaining, striving to be the most popular and bestselling newspaper.

"We will be a friend of the people, to Middle Britain and our loyal readers. They and we cherish our extraordinary national character for its resilience, tolerance, generosity and humour. I will give you support and encouragement to make the paper the best. It will reflect the values of decency and aspiration as it always has and always will, and do what it can to support and report an outstandingly positive Britain that is united, confident and successful.

"While we are a paper that applauds economic success and is pro-business, on behalf of our readers we will fight and make sure we do, that business leaders, union leaders, politicians, public figures - and judges - are held to account, to serve their customers, members, voters and the public.

"Our readers value – as you know as creators of the paper – aspiration and inspiration. They want fairness and value for money. I recognise and am pleased that we are an intensely patriotic paper and believe fervently in our country with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland united.

"We will highlight problems but also seek solutions. The Daily Mail is one of the greatest journalistic global brands and I want our journalistic values to be held up, exemplary and inspiring. I will do what I can to proudly ensure that the Daily Mail stands for the finest values, that our readers are proud of the paper and what we do.

"In the weeks, months, and hopefully years ahead I'll be listening, learning, and leading.

"The future of journalism rests in content being king and you all are supremely gifted at making our paper so extraordinary with scoops, news, brilliant writing, campaigns through your endlessly inquiring minds to create the best writing in Fleet Street. That is no easy task and I appreciate all that you do. And I look forward to seeing that happen again and again.

"I can promise I'll do my best to encourage and inspire and guide the paper on the next stage of it successful journey ... to develop the paper on a path that is forward-looking and valuing of our traditions. We have so much to be proud of – our company, your company, with all of its papers – has the largest number of readers in Britain of any other newspaper group. That's down to hard work and high goals. I can promise you that I will do my best because that is what you, the best, deserve. Thank you and I look forward to working with you.”


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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