The Daily Mail became Britain’s best selling paper as soon as it was launched in 1896. It not only marked the real beginning of British popular journalism, but also brought daily news to the breakfast tables of the mass British public rather than to the few elites in the society. The historical background, the climate of the British press and human conditions were the main factors that ensured the paper’s success. This essay will look at these factors from different angles, together with the influences they had on the Mail’s success.
First of all, it is necessary to know some history about the British press industry. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the control of the press was highly restricted by the British monarchy. Even though the Bill of Rights in 1689 opened the way to freedom of speech in Parliament, it did not help much with the freedom of press, when compared with the American constitution a century later. Up until 1855, The Times enjoyed its unmatched position, the technology used were the steam-driven press, and the number of people who could read newspapers was quite limited.
For example, when the population of the United Kingdom was 27 million in 1848, the circulation of The Times merely passed 30,000. This number is questionable because it did not take account of these same papers, which got passed around among working-class readers. However, when the paper became thicker from four to eight or even more pages, the proprietors still failed to pay attention to the majority in the society, namely, the working class. In other words, The Times merely targeted the elite.
In the same way, the public themselves were not much interested in buying newspapers either. Firstly, the papers were too expensive to buy; secondly, nobody could bother to spend time wading through the long and boring contents. Take an example, on 6 May 1896, the Daily News reported a Parliament proceeding in 15,000 words. There was also 2,000 words about Persia and Russia as a leading article on the Standard. Furthermore, the shortest weather report on the Chronicle on 4 May 1896 was a hundred words (“The wheat crop on well-favored and well-drained soils is looking very well”).
The weather is changeable at all times, so is the press climate. When the reduction in Stamp Duty from 4d to a penny and a cut in the advertising duty from 3s 6d to 1s 6d came into effect, the real newspaper revolution initiated by the Daily Mail was about to arrive. During this period, The Times dominated from Napoleonic era to 1855 for nearly 40 years, this was followed by the Daily Telegraph, which led the way until 1895. During this second period, the Daily Telegraph made headway into the wider public audience by starting to include reports on issues of marriage.
Now it is the time to look at the circumstance when the new national newspaper- the Daily Mail burst into life in the nineteen century. Many conditions were much improved during this period: the use of telegraph and telephone accelerated the speed of information transmission, the transport system had been revolutionized by the coming of the railway age, which made possible for people who lived across the United Kingdom to read papers on the very same day; the eight-hour working policy and cheaper prices on food brought a better life for the working class; and women had more freedom than ever when they became more active and prominent in public life. In addition, the abolition of taxation and Stamp Duty on newspapers, together with the ending of “a tax on knowledge” pushed the press industry forward further more.
Take a glance at the mass audience and advertisement market. On one hand, due to the Education Act of 1870, there were a growing number of people seeking a cheaper, clearer and more entertaining paper; on the other hand, a huge market from group of prosperous commercial enterprises that were looking for advertisements was available. Unfortunately, all the morning papers failed to realize these.
Even a contemporary critic once said in the Victorian era after hundreds of people died in a disaster: “It is only a few months ago that a Jewish theatre in London was the scene of a dreadful loss of life at quite an early hour of the night, and next day not a solitary line about it appeared in any London morning newspaper. The manager of the theatre had omitted to send notice to the reporters that the catastrophe was to happen.”
However, there was one man who did not ignore the public’s general need and feeling, rather, and the opportunity from the advertising market. This man was Northcliffe Harmsworth, the founder of the Daily Mail. Northcliffe and his partners adopted the mechanical Linotype composing machines and the rotary presses, which made mass production more accessible. Based on the popularity on many exciting periodicals, they were beginning to establish their publishing empire.
Actually, it was said that before Northcliffe bought the London Evening News to establish his newspaper career in 1894, he with his brother Harold Harmsworth as his financial administrator already had the biggest publishing company in the world. There was no surprise that when the Harmsworths invested about half a million pounds during the first few years of the Daily Mail, many competitors were bitterly aware of their own inadequacy as they confronted this real challenge. In fact, many of them had to give up. The Tribune, for example, collapsed in two years after losing about 300,000. Thus the economic reality in the Mail’s success could not be overlooked.
However, by the time the first issue of the Daily Mail appeared on 4 May 1896, over 65 dummy runs had taken place. For each of these complete papers were produced at a cost of ï¿½40,000. Something was exciting and special for the public that the eight pages paper cost only half penny! People used to sell the paper by saying “A penny Newspaper for One Halfpenny”, and “The Busy Man’s Daily Journal”. Moreover, the creativity which included the new style and content were in no doubt the reason why the Mail was so attractive: the banner headline that went right across the page; considerable space was given to sport and human interest stories; an anonymous serial which was organized liked a modern soap opera:
“Why, yes Morgan,” she said. But why do you call me a young lady of importance?” “Because, my dear, you have just inherited half a million of money.” (To be continued in tomorrow’s Daily Mail. Daily Mail not only changed the Victorian trait from its verbosity and dullness to a new stage, but more significantly, it was the first newspaper to include a woman’s section, which dealt with issues such as fashion and cookery. Indeed, who would say “no” to a paper of such good value? All these revolutions immediately amazed everybody, which resulted in the circulation quickly achieved 500,000. Three years later, the sales rose to over a million.
Apart from the favorable climate and the characteristic the Daily Mail had itself, there was another element in the paper’s success: the founder of the Daily Mail- Northcliffe. Although there were different comments – praise and censure about him, one thing has been generally recognized that Northcliffe was a newspaper genius. He was the first who really understood what the public demanded. Thus, he provided the audience with newspapers they could read, understand and enjoy. The idea of “popular journalism” was always in his mind. He believed that the general public could also be interested in international news, only if the papers chose the right categories. He put a lot of efforts into establishing the international news organization of the Daily Mail.
Once he said between 1894 and 1896: “…the news service of the Daily Mail should not only be equal to that of the best morning dailies, but it should surpass them in its completeness and efficiency. Instead of relying upon the hackneyed telegrams of the news agencies.” Few years later, the international news organization of the Daily Mail became the second largest agency just after those of The Times and Reuters.
When he was eight years old in 1873, he received a printing set from Mr. George Jealous, a friend of his father and the editor of the Ham and High. With Mr. Jealous’s permission and encouragement, young Northcliffe got his first insight of the press industry world. The passion and experiences he gained during that time had invaluable influences in his later years. In March 1881, when Northcliffe was fifteen, he founded the first magazine called the Henley House School Magazine. In the first issue he wrote, “I have it on the best authority that the N.H.S magazine is to be a marked success.”
Afterward, he wrote in the second issue: “I am glad to say that my prediction as to the success of this magazine proved correct.” People like Marie Corelli might have called it “booming”, others would call it promotion or hype. Whatever the words, for a fifteen years old boy, the best answer might be it was an instinct. In fact, the innate character could have been seen all the way through his career. Before the Daily Mail came into circulation in 1896, its arrival was well publicized.
In issues two and three, praise and supportive comments from important figures were printed within the paper; E. Layton Bennett, Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants also announced “a world’s record for a first number – the circulation of the Mail’s first paper was 397,215”. Although the figure was questionable, no one could deny the strategy Northcliffe used, since he was well known as a superb propagandist. Nevertheless, the Daily Mail’s era did not last forever. However, it was the favorable circumstance and background; the incomparable creativity and quality; and the human conditions that ensured the Daily Mail’s success. Its contribution would not be forgotten because it was a breakthrough for the British popular press industry.