The phrase ‘Daily Mail reader’ is used as a term of abuse by some on the left of British politics who may not read the paper but nonetheless see those who do as small-minded little Englanders. Editor Geordie Greig, not surprisingly, sees them a little differently.
Greig spoke about his typical reader this week as the paper kicked off its Computers for Kids campaign, which seeks to ensure less privileged children in the UK have access to laptops as the pandemic sees most children forced to learn from home.
In a rare interview, he told Press Gazette: “Daily Mail readers are ordinary people with extraordinary lives. They are people you sit next to on the Tube, on the aeroplane, at the bus stop – it’s the biggest newspaper readership in Britain and they are the bedrock of middle Britain. When they get behind something and feel there’s an injustice, they really support us.
“I think the Daily Mail reader is the most generous reader that there is.”
Greig says this support has been in evidence this week as readers rallied behind its latest campaign. In a matter of days, it raised more than £2m in cash and hardware, buoyed most recently by 1,000 top-of-the-range computers being provided by Lloyds Bank.
The Mirror this week launched a similar campaign to provide home-schooling equipment and materials for disadvantaged children with a £1m donation from the National Education Union.
Explaining how the campaign came about, Greig says: “We as a paper often think how can we make actions louder than words. The response has been unbelievable from our readers and from business. I think we are going to get millions coming in.
“The campaign came about from us all talking in the office about schools and how desperate it was that a generation was going to be lost to having the opportunity we all took for granted, of going to school every day. Everyone in our office is only in their jobs as a result of having a solid education from early on.
“If you are at home and there is only one computer or no computer, how do you do it? We are going to have a lost generation.
“The response from readers in letters and donations has been completely amazing. Our aim is to help end the digital divide in Britain. It is shocking that more than a million don’t have access to a laptop. We want to try to make a difference in the same way that our last Mail Force campaign got 43m pieces of PPE to frontline workers.
“We couldn’t do any of this without our readers who have shown incredible generosity and are fully behind us again as we try to accelerate the process of getting computers to children. There is also an element of recycling refurbished computers which plays to a green agenda which people have found attractive
“We are in step with the readers who have shown incredible generosity and got behind us again as we try to accelerate the process of getting computers to children.
“We have had people in their 90s saying can I send you a cheque for £10 to help others have the opportunity which they had all those years ago, to company directors saying can we give computers from our offices.”
People want to feel they can get behind something and help
The first Mail Force campaign earned the paper the Public Service award at the British Journalism Awards in December. It raised more than £11m to provide charities and health workers with PPE and involved chartering a 767 to fly from China to the UK packed with PPE at the height of the first UK pandemic lockdown in April 2020.
Greig says: “This one seems to have hit a chord in the same way that Mail Force did with PPE, which was a symbol of difference as well an actual physical difference. I think people want to feel they can get behind something and help.”
Oxford and Eton-educated Greig is more upper class than the typical Mail reader. But he came up through the news industry the traditional way, starting on local newspapers in South East London before bagging shifts on the Daily Mail.
He became editor of the Evening Standard in 2009 after a decade in charge of monthly high-society title Tatler.
Greig joined the Standard at a time when it was struggling, and he likened the task ahead for him and his team to scaling Everest without oxygen. Three years later, a £30m annual loss had been turned into a profit, and a daily sale of 100,000 had been turned into a free circulation of 700,000.
During that time the Standard’s Dispossessed campaign raised £5m to tackle poverty by funding grassroots charities and its Get London Reading initiative helped thousands of children improve their literacy.
Since taking over from Paul Dacre as Daily Mail editor in September 2018, Greig has continued the paper’s long-standing campaigning tradition. And, as with his time at the Standard, there has been a focus on social justice.
Asked what makes a good campaign, he says: “You’ve got feel it. Any bunch of journalists can get into a room and say let’s try to find a campaign. It’s got to be instinctive. It has to come from a feeling that ‘this makes me so cross, or I know of someone who’s suffering and I want to end that or help.
“In the case of Computers for Kids, we heard from readers saying that schools being closed down by Covid is one of the most damaging things that has ever happened to our country. Education is the aspirational trigger which allows people to have fulfilled and prosperous lives.”
“We had letters from readers saying that schools being closed down by Covid is one of the most damaging things that has ever happened to our country. Education is the aspirational trigger which allows people to have fulfilled and prosperous lives.”
‘A trusted brand – a force for good’
The Daily Mail became a brand that was seen as toxic to many in the final years of previous editor Dacre because of its vocal support for Brexit and its opposition to the European Union.
Over the month leading up to the 2016 Brexit referendum it published 19 front pages attacking the EU.
Under Greig, the Mail has changed its tone on Europe, breaking with the hard Brexiteers and instead supporting compromise with the EU. This was no surprise given that Greig had opposed Brexit as editor of the Mail on Sunday.
During our brief conversation, he did not have time to talk about how he sees the job of redefining and refreshing perceptions of the Daily Mail.
But he did say: “The Daily Mail brand defies gravity. People access via Mail Online and Mail Plus.
“Nearly a million people a day buy the print edition Monday to Friday and more than a million and a half every Saturdays. And the Mail on Sunday is the biggest seller on the market.
“That’s because The Mail is a trusted brand and it’s a force for good in holding up the powerful to scrutiny and focusing on actions and deeds that our readers are not happy with, whether it’s the crisis in social care or the post office scandal. Our readers know that we represent them and ensure their voice is heard. It’s where the potency of journalism and campaigning combine to be a force for good.”
Asked what the Daily Mail stands for under his editorship, he says: “The Daily Mail will always will have a potent focus on covering news but also shining a light on things we think are not right and representing our readers who are the bedrock of middle Britain.”
Picture: Orwell Foundation