The Mirror’s letterhead could reasonably be graced with the line "A Trinity Mirror Newspaper". Instead, the £1.17bn company chooses to proclaim its flagship, "A Trinity Mirror Business". What better clue to the priorities that will govern the decision whether to chuck its red-top badge?
The debate is perversely clouded by the latest ABCs, showing sales up 15,000 year-on-year against The Sun’s 123,000 drop. Should this persuade Trinity Mirror to leave well alone? Or encourage the board to let Piers Morgan go for it, having already run enough non-red-top page ones to demonstrate an exciting 21st century look?
But a more vital question is whether The Mirror’s achievement in becoming the most talked-about newspaper of the year (on everyone’s lips every day this week with its freedom of expression battle against Naomi Campbell) will accelerate The Sun into a rethink.
Though 1.3 million ahead and more combative than ever, The Sun must sooner or later take a long, hard look at a format fundamentally little changed since its Soaraway Seventies.
It is indicative that, as The Mirror blurbed its ABC triumph, The Sun was running a black-and-white shot of "Ravishing Rachel" to introduce a week of page-three pin-ups of bygone years.
It may pray that Morgan gives John Pilger a spread six days a week. It may trust that the earnest Dr Jekyll Mirror continues to be confounded by the deadly Mr Hyde Mirror, yah-booing rival David Yelland while massively misjudging its own readers’ feeling over Camp X-Ray.
But The Mirror has impressively repositioned itself (on most days anyway) with a serious news agenda projected by modern design and a transfusion of rousing anti-Establishment commentators.
Should The Sun ignore it? Will The Sun ignore it? Can The Sun ignore it?
Rupert Murdoch is unlikely to have forgotten that it might never have got off the launchpad had The Mirror not folded its arms, dismissing its challenger as silly, and doomed anyway. He will hardly make that mistake himself.
The Mirror’s last great leap upward coincided with a high policy decision that it was time to open all the windows and let in fresh air (and let out stale attitudes). Immediately, the revitalised paper was on its way to 5 million.
Mind you, those were the good old days when Pilger was a happy, young Mirror feature writer, writing happy, young Mirror features.