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Daily Mail Group

Overview

This profile considers the Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT) group, the descendant of the newspaper empire built by Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere.


It covers -

  • introduction
  • the group
  • Northcliffe
  • Rothermere
  • recent expansion

Introduction

Daily Mail & General Trust - corporate site here - is a dominant newspaper publisher in the UK and has substantial radio holdings in Australia.

The group traces its origins to the newspaper and magazine built at the turn of last century by Lord Northcliffe, an innovator whose grasp of the popular press was exceeed only by an increasing megalomania. High profile but marginally profitable acquisitions such as the Observer, Times and Sunday Times were offloaded but Northcliffe's heirs retained large print and pulp holdings. His brother, the first Lord Rothermere, and nephew dabbled in UK and Hungarian politics - notably through bizarre suggestions of availability for the Hungarian throne and support for ultra-conservative groups in the interwar UK - but without conspicuous success.

More recently DMGT has accumulated substantial UK radio interests (embodied in GWR, which merged with Capital in mid-2005 as GCap), expanded into trade shows and professional publications, and held 60 radio licenses in Australia. In September 2004 it sold 57 Australian regional radio stations to Regional Media (later Macquarie Media) for $193.5 million.

A chronology of the group is here.

The group

The group currently encompasses

  • UK metropolitan and regional newspapers
  • specialist publications such as Euromoney and Petroleum Economist
  • television broadcasting and production
  • radio broadcasting in the UK and Australia
  • trade shows and related publications in the Americas, Middle East, UK and Australasia

An indication of current holdings is here.

Northcliffe

Alfred Harmsworth Lord Northcliffe (1865-1922) - bad, mad and dangerous to know - founded the print dynasty in 1888 as a free-lance contributor to popular periodicals. His brother Harold (1868-1940) - later 1st Viscount Rothermere - acted as financial administrator of what became the world's largest periodical combine, the Amalgamated Press.

Northcliffe bought the London Evening News in 1894, going on to found the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror before seizing the Times in 1908 (it was sold to John Jacob Astor after his death before being acquired by Roy Thomson and Rupert Murdoch).

Northcliffe's interest in politics was fitful but intense. He campaigned vigorously against the Asquith government and, like Beaverbrook, for imperial preference (ie free trade within the British empire).

Paul Ferris's The House Of Northcliffe - Biography Of An Empire (New York: World 1972) is the most readable study of the family. Sally Taylor's The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere & the Daily Mail (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1996) updates the story but is arguably overly sympathetic to proprietor foibles. Northcliffe (London: Cassell 1959) by Reginald Pound & Geoffrey Harmsworth is detailed, reverent and dull. Harry Greenwall's Northcliffe: Napoleon of Fleet Street (London: Cassell 1957) is undistinguished.

J Lee Thompson's dessicated Northcliffe (London: John Murray 2000) reheats his more academic Politicians, the Press & Propaganda: Lord Northcliffe & the Great War, 1914-1919 (Bowling Green: Kent State Uni Press 2000). Those in search of insights about the man and milieu might more profitably turn to Stephen Koss's superb two volume The Rise & Fall of the Political Press in Britain (London: Hamish Hamilton 1984) or Papers for the Millions: the New Journalism in Britain, 1850s to 1914 (New York: Greenwood 1988) edited by Joel Wiener. Richard Bourne's Lords of Fleet Street: The Harmsworth Dynasty (London: Unwin Hyman 1991) is less substantial.

For a view of his impact consult Northcliffe's Legacy: Aspects of the British Popular Press 1896-1996 (New York: St Martins 2000), edited by Peter Catterall & Colin Seymour-Ure.

The exchange between Northcliffe and George Bernard Shaw

Northcliffe - The trouble with you, Shaw, is that you look as if there were famine in the land.

Shaw - The trouble with you, Northcliffe, is that you look as if you were the cause of it.

appears to be apocryphal. He inspired over a dozen contemporary novels, including Joseph Conrad & Ford Madox Ford's 1900 The Inheritors, Marie Leighton's 1900 A Napoleon of the Press, Keble Howard's 1913 Lord London and Walter L George's 1920 Caliban.

Rothermere

Rothermere acquired Northcliffe's stake in the Daily Mail in 1914, becoming Air Minister in 1917. Rothermere restructured the family interests after the death of Northcliffe. In 1923 Sir Edward Hulton refused to dispose of his newspaper chain to Rothermere: Beaverbrook instead bought the chain as a "friend", passing most of the titles to the Harmsworths and receiving the Standard as commission. A 1922 exhange of interests between Beaverbrook and Rothermere (the latter for example at one time held 49% of Express Newspapers) was dissolved in 1933.

By 1928, with daily sales of the Daily Mail reaching two million, Rothermere was reported to be worth around £25 million (supposedly the third richest man in the UK) and reinforced his position through acquisition of papers Wales, Midlands and North-East of England as Northcliffe Newspapers. A mixture of commercial opportunism, vanity and anxiety about socialism saw him join with Beaverbrook to establish the United Empire Party and urge the Tories to remove Stanley Baldwin as Conservative Party leader.

Rationalisation in the early thirties was reflected in establishment in 1930 of the News Chronicle (absorbed by Daily Mail in 1960), sale of the downmarket Daily Mirror in 1931 and further regional expansion (notably through a 40% stake in Bristol United Press in 1935). Relations with Beaverbrook unsurprisingly soured and an ongoing drift to the right saw Rothermere support Oswald Mosley's National Union of Fascists, evident in a 1934 article 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts' praising Mosley for "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine".

Rothermere was a leading exponent of appeasement but stepped back from the very brink in 1939. In 2005 the UK Public Record Office revealed that Rothermere had written to Hitler congratulating Germany on annexation of Czechoslovakia and urging the Führer to march into Romania. His 7 July 1939 telegram to von Ribbentrop said that

"Our two great Nordic countries should pursue resolutely a policy of appeasement for, whatever anyone may say, our two great countries should be the leaders of the world"

following up a recent letter to Hitler that began

"My Dear Führer, I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country"

and doesn't appear to have got much better.

Harold Harmsworth's My Campaign for Hungary (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode 1939), Warnings & Predictions and My Fight to Rearm Britain offer a perspective on the family's dalliance with the British Union of Fascists, Mussolini and Hitler pre-1938.

Another perspective is offered by Martha Schad's Hitler's Spy Princess: The Extraordinary Life of Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe (Sutton 2004) on go-between Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfurst (1891-1972). Rothermere's realignment in 1939 saw an embarrassing lawsuit in which the princess alleged that the publisher had promised to pay her US$20,000 a year for life. Rothermere admitted paying her US$250,000 in six years to facilitate relations with Germany, explaining "I expected her to live like a queen."

Recent expansion and uncertainty

In 2005 DMGT announced plans to auction off its Northcliffe regional newspapers (some 100 titles), with an expectation that it would score around £1.5 billion (potentially useful in a bid for broadcaster GCap). In February 2006 DMGT backed off after private-equity groups CVC and Candover joined forces and Gannett was distracted by simultaneous sale of Knight Ridder newspaper assets in the US. Private-equity group Providence, the third bidder in the later stages of the auction, also failed to come up with what DMGT considered an acceptable offer.

There is a thin profile of the third Lord Rothermere in Nicholas Coleridge's Paper Tigers (London: Heinemann 1993). Sally Taylor's The Reluctant Press Lord: Esmond Rothermere & 'The Daily Mail' (London: Phoenix 1999) and An Unlikely Hero - Vere Rothermere and how the Daily Mail was Saved (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2003) have more depth. Piers Brendon's The Life & Death of the Press Barons (London: Secker & Warburg 1982) offers context.