Lord Rothermere sketched out a blueprint for good newspaper proprietors at a ceremony to unveil portrait busts of his father, Vere, Sir David English and Lord Northcliffe.
All three men shared the same philosophy about newspapers, he said, adding: "It was the strength of their conviction which gave them the confidence to take the awesome risks necessary for success. They believed that for a newspaper to succeed it needed to reach out to people in a way no other media could. They realised a successful paper has to have a unique voice and a true heart.
"They understood that an excellent newspaper is a work of art and that it needed to be protected from short termism, meanness and lack of imagination."
The men who built Associated’s empire were captured in neoclassical pose in their youth by sculptor Sandy Stoddart, who is currently working on a bust of the Queen, commissioned by her for her Golden Jubilee.
Lord Rothermere said Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, had established the principles of modern journalism, risking everything he had to launch the Daily Mail in 1896.
"It was an instant success with a newly literate public who wanted a paper that talked their language," Lord Rothermere said. But after Northcliffe’s death, years of "mismanagement and penny-pinching reduced the Mail to a dim shadow of its former self".
Then came "two great visionaries with enough talent and guts to rival even Northcliffe. Two men audacious enough to believe that between them they could rewrite the laws of journalism and turn Fleet Street upon its head – Vere Harmsworth and David English."
Lord Rothermere also used the occasion to have a go at critics of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday.
Pointing out that both his titles had bucked the trend and registered year-on-year circulation increases in the latest ABC figures, he said: "The pundits may comment that this increase, against atrocious Daily Express figures, show that Richard Desmond has underrated our resilience. Or they may pass snide comments that this rise is all the more surprising because the titles had not been seen in a New Labour light.
"But, whatever the spin the foundations for this amazing success are here tonight."
At a gathering which included the families of both men and current and former editors, the late Lord Rothermere’s bust was unveiled by his daughter, Geraldine, and Sir David’s by his daughter, Amanda. The busts face each other across the atrium of Associated’s Kensington HQ, Northcliffe House.
By Jean Morgan