Aligning the Newspaper and the People: Defining the Popular in the British Press

  • Martin Conboy

Abstract

The Daily Mirror developed as the first general picture daily in Britain and had become the nation’s best-selling daily newspaper by the end of the First World War. Its turn to the political left came from the mid-1930s as a marketing ploy to establish a distinctive identity within a crowded middle-market. This commercially astute targeting of a mass readership, delivering the most successful daily newspaper in British history by the mid-1960s, illustrates a great deal of the complexity of the term ‘popular’ when used in relation to mass media. It drew on the traditions of best-selling magazines, Sunday newspapers, and American tabloid pioneers combined with modern techniques of market research to identify a new and broad readership. The explicit integration of readers’ views, deployment of brash headlines, and a bold page layout highlighting photography, in editorial combination, made the paper the forerunner of a distinctly British tabloid style that would become a world-leading trend. Magazine-style features had flowed between various forms of periodicals in Britain throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries but it was the Daily Mirror that perfected an appeal to a young, left-of-centre, popular readership that had hitherto been largely ignored by publishers; an approach that included appealing to female readers in a distinctly ‘modern’ way. This article will centre on definitions of the popular in the formative era 1935–45 and the impact that such a style of popular newspaper would eventually have on the entire British market. In preparing the way for later manifestations of the magazine-newspaper, popular hybrids such as the Sun and the later version of the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror can be seen as the prototype of not just the popular tabloid that would come to dominate the British market but also of the shift to a ‘tabloid culture’ that continues to inform our contemporary legacy and digital news environments.

Published
2020-06-30