Morgan: 'Don't pin sales slump on me'

By Dominic Ponsford

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan this week said he had “warned” Trinity Mirror over suggestions that the Iraq torture pictures affair was to blame for the Mirror ‘s circulation slide.

The company’s chief executive, Sly Bailey, made the claim as Trinity
Mirror announced operating profits for 2004 had risen 20.9 per cent to
£253m on turnover up 5.8 per cent to £1,141.7m.

Explaining why
the Mirror had lost market share in 2004 she said: “This was
principally the result of an estimated three per cent loss of
circulation following the publication in May of the fake Iraq abuse
pictures.”

Average Mirror circulation for 2004 fell 6.9 per cent
and, according to Trinity Mirror, its market share fell from 20.3 per
cent to 19.5 per cent following the torture pictures episode in May.

Morgan,
who was sacked over the affair, told: “I know for a fact that up until
the day I left that building, the pictures had absolutely no
detrimental effect on circulation whatsoever. That will be backed up by
the circulation reports that came in every day for that two-week period.

“After
the decision to clear the front page and say ‘sorry we were hoaxed’ –
before, in my opinion, there was the incontrovertible evidence required
to have done that – the sale the following week fell off a cliff.

“The
decision to put the apology on the front page – it was horrible… It was
an abject mea culpa and is what’s caused the haemorrhaging of sales. “I
take full responsibility for the sales problem with the Iraq war
coverage but we had restored a lot of that. For them to still be
blaming me is quite ridiculous. I have warned them about it.”

Despite
falling circulation across Trinity Mirror’s national titles – the Daily
Mirror , Sunday Mirror , People, Daily Record and Sunday Mail –
increased cover prices and an “improved advertising environment” helped to boost profits.

Operating
profit across the nationals increased to £95.1m (compared with £89.8m
in 2003) on turnover of £519.7m (compared with £492.2m).

However, regional newspapers continue to be Trinity Mirror’s cash cow and are by far its most profitable division.

Profitability was boosted with the help of cutbacks over the past 18 months, including editorial redundancies.

Turnover for regionals was £541.1m (£509.1m) and profit increased to £150.6m (£120.8m).

Operating margin in the regionals division increased to 27.9 per cent.

At
the same time, circulation declined across the company’s regional
titles. The evenings were down 5.6 per cent, mornings down three per
cent, weeklies two per cent and Sundays down 8.7 per cent – but cover
price increases meant that circulation revenue increased.

The
improved figures can be partly explained by the fact that 53 weeks
trading were counted in 2004 compared with 52 weeks in 2003.

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