Northcliffe, Rothermere and the 30s Circulation War
By Andrew Giddings
Alfred Harmsworth founded his first newspaper, Answers to Correspondents,
in 1888. Alfred's brother Harold, who had great aptitude for business
and accountancy, later assisted him and a string of acquisitions and
successes led to Alfred founding the world’s largest periodical
publishing empire at that time; Amalgamated Press.
Inspired by American newspapers, Alfred and Harold launched The Daily
Mail on 4th May 1896. Selling it for half the price of the other major
papers of the time, they
peddled it as 'A Penny Newspaper for One Halfpenny' and 'The Busy Man's
Daily Newspaper'. The Daily Mail was an early step towards the tabloid
in the way it delivered news simply and briefly. Innovations included
the banner headline, a woman's section and the publication of serials.
Following the Boer War, Joseph Pulitzer invited Alfred to edit his New
York World. He immediately reduced its size, calling it the “tabloid”.
The brothers launched the first women’s newspaper in 1903 and
named it The Daily Mirror, but it was unsuccessful and so the format
was changed. When they tried increasing the number of photographs and
images, they found that pictures of the royal family were particularly
popular. Here began the trend of tabloid celebrity coverage. Alfred Harmsworth
became Lord Northcliffe in 1905, obtained The Sunday Observer
in the same year and bought The Times three years later. He later published
a series of articles observing the German army and correctly predicted
the First World War.
He was accused of playing a part in the war’s
outbreak but Northcliffe was determined to make The Daily Mail the newspaper
of the British Army, supplying thousands of copies to the soldiers. Although
he repeatedly criticised decisions made by British command, he later
took charge of all propaganda directed at enemy countries.
In 1914, Harold Harmsworth, now Viscount Rothermere, purchased his brother’s
shares in The Daily Mirror and it soon became another of the Army’s
most popular papers. In 1922, Northcliffe died and so Rothermere also
took over the publishing empire.
Viscount Rothermere and The Mail supported the British Union of Fascists
and the paper is still remembered for the 1934 article, “Hurrah
for the Blackshirts.” Oswald Mosley and the BUF soon lost their
backing, but Rothermere continued to support Hitler until he finally
changed stance in 1939.
During the 1920s a rival newspaper, The Daily Herald, struggled financially
until it finally came under new ownership in 1929. Various campaign tactics
were employed by the new owners which prompted a circulation war.
Daily Herald flourished along with The Daily Express, leaving The Mail
and The Mirror trailing behind. Rothermere decided to sell his shares
in The Mirror, and with the new leadership of Guy Bartholomew came a
huge change in format and approach. In an effort to boost sales, The
Mirror became the sensationalist red-top with which we are now so familiar
and helped to bring news to the working-class. The plan worked; by the
outbreak of the Second World War, circulation was well over a million
copies per day.