Mirror merger cannot erase Express heartbreak

NORMAN GILLER is unconvinced about the appeal of Express Newspapers in a mooted deal with rivals Trinity Mirror

Anybody with their ear close to the ground will know there are Himalayan-high mountains between Trinity Mirror and a successful buy-out or even share of Dickie Desmond’s Express Newspaper titles.

A typical Express front page. Might the group be of interest to Trinity Mirror?
A typical Express front page. Might the group be of interest to Trinity Mirror?

It has been confirmed that early discussions on a possible deal have started, with talks at the “evaluating stage”.

Hark! Can you hear that grinding sound? That’s Lord Beaverbrook turning and churning in his grave at the prospect of the Express papers he once owned coming under the Mirror banner.

Beaverbrook used his papers as a political propaganda tool and turned them into best-selling papers from the 1930s to the 1960s. He was as far removed from the Mirror message as David Cameron is to Alex Salmond.

It is hardly a state secret that Desmond, who made his millions from pornography, has been looking to off-load at least the Daily and Sunday Express. He has been cutting the staff and overheads to the bone, clearly hoping to attract a buyer. As an old Express man, I have been heartbroken in recent months to see so many exceptional sports journalists kicked into touch, sacrificed to open the door to a deal that will put millions into the Desmond pocket.

Tricky Dickie bought the Express and Star package from United News and Media in November 2000 for £125 million. He has allowed the Express titles to become a laughing stock, with the all-too-predictable front-page leads on health or weather or Diana or Madeleine, making a mockery of once-proud newspapers.

When Desmond first got his hands on the Daily Express it was selling a certified 1,033,858. The circulation has since shrunk to less than 450,000 and the Sunday Express is now below 400,000. Well done, Dickie.

The papers need a saviour, but can it be Trinity Mirror? They have a plethora of problems of their own running through the group, not least of which is a pension funds deficit of more than £300 million.

They are going through a revolution, focusing on a huge swing towards the digital world with all their titles. Is this the right time for them to be getting into bed with ailing newspapers that are not only haemorrhaging readers but have made little impact with an online presence?

Even if the two teams of lawyers can manoeuvre through the minefield of problems facing both groups, there is surely slim chance of the Office of Fair Trading giving approval to a deal which would bring together so many titles under single ownership.

My hope is that now it’s in the open that Desmond is ready to do business a great white knight (a Crusader?) could come charging through to make an offer and give the Express papers back their dignity and pride.

But I won’t hold my breath.


SPORT IS GETTING few mentions as the General Election campaigns gather momentum. If I were pulling the strings for any of the major parties, I would be putting football on the agenda.

They could get high approval ratings from thousands of Premier League supporters by simply telling clubs to hand some of the upcoming £5 billion TV revenue windfall to the fans.

It has now reached the point that clubs could play in half-empty grounds and still make a profit. But that would lead to a lack of atmosphere that will not please television’s paymasters.

So why not cut admission prices, so that all fans can afford to go and watch, rather than fleecing them to help pay the obscene wages of the players?

All sports editors should be running a campaign demanding cheaper tickets for the supporters, who kept football clubs propped up before television started pouring in millions.

I hate government interference in sport, but here is a case for the politicians to tell the football plutocrats to share their good fortune with the people who matter most, the supporters.

Come to think of it, what a great front-page campaign that would make for the Express. Better than “Heavy Rain On The Way”.

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