How Wonderful If Old Media Came To The Rescue Of Ailing New

The internet, I’ve learned recently, is about to be turned into the ‘worst kind of tabloid‘. Assuming, of course, that that hasn’t already happened.

It’s rumored that the ailing internet company Yahoo, which has been in trouble for a number of years, having suffered bewildering changes in leadership and business plans, may be bought by Britain’s most powerful newspaper brand, the Daily Mail.

Reports suggest that the newspaper’s publisher, Daily Mail and General Trust is in talks with private equity companies about a takeover of Yahoo, which has a market capitalisation of around £27 billion.

The tech firm, whose embattled CEO Marissa Mayer recently announced yet another strategic review which may lead to making 1,700 staff (15% of the global workforce) redundant, closing five foreign offices and scrapping seven digital magazines, put its core business up for sale in February.

The doom-mongers, however, are already sharpening their knives and first to go on the attack is Quartz magazine, a normally-insightful, digital-only business news website owned by Atlantic Media.

It’s estimated that 40% of Quartz’s high-earning readers access its free content from abroad. A Wikipedia entry suggests that those readers are predominantly left-leaning, though I wonder if that’s wishful thinking on behalf of the journalists who work there.

Anyway, in the best traditions of tabloid newspapers, one of Quartz’s journalists, Heather Timmons, fulminated about how Yahoo’s takeover by such a ‘shameless’ outfit as the Daily Mail would destroy even further the standards of news-reporting on the web.

The magazine’s Asia correspondent, who writes about ‘everything from ramen to derivatives’ sneered thus: ‘If the company succeeds, news on the internet may never be the same…Any combination is likely to push the Daily Mail’s trademark brand of incendiary, lightly sourced, heavily borrowed tabloid journalism to Yahoo’s one billion worldwide monthly users.’
Yes, the online Daily Mail is not to everyone’s tastes and sometimes gets things wrong. Its obsession with scantily-clad celebrities, horrific stories of personal anguish, lurid photographs, rehashed confessionals and tales about aliens accessing inter-galactic portals through the Sun (the star not newspaper) isn’t aimed at people like Timmons. Which may be why the most recent figures reveal it enjoys the global readership of more than 200m browsers every month, just under 14m of them from Britain. That latter figure is slightly less than Quartz magazine enjoys across the globe.

But this isn’t about eyeballs, it’s about professionalism. Yahoo has seemingly spent the past decade or so lurching from crisis to crisis, its losses are horrendous, its leadership lost, its employees demoralized, its content a mess and its users disenchanted. The company dramatically needs the guidance of media specialists who know what they’re doing.

It’s a little disingenuous of journalists like Heather to ignore what a brilliant publication the Daily Mail actually is. I’m not saying that just because I was an executive there for a number of years, learned more from its editor Paul Dacre than anyone I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, and was involved in the first, rather tame incarnation of MailOnline.

Its heady mix of lifestyle features, celebrity tittle-tattle, coruscating opinion and agenda-leading exposes have made it a must-read even for people who hate its politics and prurience. More importantly, it’s run like Yahoo never has been.

Within budget, in an environment where editorial is not dictated to by commercial and where all staff seem to have an instinctive understanding of what their customers want and how best to promote news. And it has adapted to digital disruption not by leaping between strategies determined by web giants such as Facebook, Google and Snapchat, but by planning for the long-term.

For instance, DMGT has been heavily focused on building its operation in the US, which includes the acquisition of news site Elite Daily and an upcoming move into TV with a syndicated news show with Phil McGraw, known as Dr Phil.

The US has become the Daily Mail’s prime driver of digital growth, with revenues growing 66% in the three months to the end of December.

So would its acquisition of Yahoo turn the company into ‘the worst kind of tabloid’? I don’t know because I’m not entirely sure what ‘worst’ means. If it means popular, money-making, determinedly not-boring and compiled at lightning-speed, then yes, very probably snobs like Heather will have their doom-laden prophecies fulfilled.


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