New editor of the Daily Express, Gary Jones, has said he “doesn’t want the paper to be offensive to anybody” as he settles in at the title having made some obvious front page changes.
The former Sunday Mirror and Sunday People editor told Press Gazette: “I grew up reading the Express as a child and it’s probably the reason why I came into newspapers”.
Besides changing from a weekly to a daily print routine, Jones has also crossed the political divide from left to right editorially speaking.
“[The Daily Express’s] politics is obviously monumentally different [to the Mirror’s],” he said. “There has been a readjustment in my brain in terms of the kind of stories we’re covering.”
He compared it to switching football teams: “One minute you’re a Liverpool fan and the next you’re an Everton fan, so it’s a change of sides, but as far as I’m concerned I play for the team.”
Jones said he doesn’t have a personal agenda as editor and believes it’s more important to “give the readers what they want”.
“My opinions are irrelevant when it comes to putting a newspaper together,” he said. “I’m a news man – my bottom line is get the best stories you can, follow the newspaper’s agenda and make it as strong as you possibly can.”
Despite this Jones admits “there have been some changes” at the Express, “because it’s bringing my perspective to what the newspaper is about”.
His influence can already be seen on the paper’s front pages, opting for poster-style picture covers and broadening the variety of issues covered.
Under Whittow the Daily Express had been criticised for rarely deviating from stories on healthcare breakthroughs, the royal family, Brexit and the weather on its front pages.
Over one month, from 1 February to 1 March, 2018, the front page of the Daily Express (excluding the Sunday Express) featured a story on Brexit, the weather, or health 83 per cent of the time, according to Press Gazette analysis.
In the two months following Jones’ appointment on 2 March (up to 2 May) we found only three front pages that featured headlines on Brexit or the weather, with 71 per cent of splash stories covering other news topics.
Jones said: “I think every editor wants to bring their own judgement as to what is the best story of the day.
“We’re still covering Brexit stories, we’re still covering health stories, we’re just not covering them as regularly as what might have happened in the past. I want a front page that is going to have impact.”
He added: “For print to remain relevant you’ve got to publish something that is eye-catching and tells the reader something they didn’t know.”
Last week Jones told the Home Affairs Committee, which is investigating hate speech in the media, that the Express had created an “Islamophobic sentiment”.
He told MPs: “I’ve gone through a lot of former Express front pages and I felt very uncomfortable looking at them.
“Individually they may not present specific issues, there have been accuracy issues on some of them and some of them are just downright offensive and I wouldn’t want to be party to any newspaper that would publish such material.
“I have to accept, as a newspaper editor that people have different views to my own and the newspaper is there to represent the broader section of views, but I think there are limits as to how far you should go.”
Talking to Press Gazette, Jones said: “What I was giving in front of the Select Committee was my personal view and my reaction to that kind of content.
“Immigration is an issue and one that is important to Express readers, but I don’t want the Daily Express to be offensive to anybody – not immigrants or any kind of religion.
“I want to be as inclusive as possible and that is something I want to personally bring to the Express.”
He added: “I’m not going to do a front page that isn’t reflective of the kind of society that I’d want to live in.”
Readers were reassured that the political stance of the Daily Express would remain unchanged following its buyout by Trinity Mirror
Jones has stated that the paper will maintain its support of Brexit under his editorship.
“I’ve done a couple of front page wipe-outs which have pushed Brexit,” he said. “One was a picture of the white cliffs of Dover and a great quote from Boris Johnson that I think had a bit of impact.
“That to me is important and that’s what the Express and its politics is about.”
The takeover of the Express is still under scrutiny with Culture Secretary Matt Hancock issuing a Public Interest Intervention Notice on the grounds of media plurality and free expression.
Jones said of the deal: “I can’t speak of what might be because I don’t know.
“I think that Trinity Mirror has an excellent reputation as a publisher and an employer and I would hope that the staff would be encouraged that if the takeover did go through we would be stronger together.”
He also confirmed that there have been no editorial changes as of yet.
Jones has already been tested under his short tenure and took the decision to apologise over a comment piece published on the Express website, which implied trouble followed Liverpool fans around.
It came after an outbreak of violence ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League match against Italian side Roma last week in which a Liverpool fan was seriously injured. Two Italian men have been charged.
Jones said: “I’m a Liverpool fan and have campaigned on Hillsborough for the Mirror for a couple of decades or more. I thought the view was abhorrent and it’s so obvious it should never have been written or put online.
“It was taken down very quickly and I’ve apologised to the people of Liverpool.”
The journalist who wrote the piece is currently suspended.
As the new editor, Jones said part of his remit was to “get the Express more talked about and for people to buy into not just print but online as well”.
Its circulation figures stand at 357,183 copies, down 8 per cent year-on-year.
Said Jones: “I wish I was the genius that could actually add to circulation figures. I’d say our figures are still pretty strong and I’m happy with that.”
Jones said he hopes print media “survives and flourishes” in the face of industry-wide decline in circulation and profits.
“We have an incredibly vibrant press [in the UK]. I think the Guardian story on Windrush is incredible journalism and I’m still very proud to say I work in this industry,” he said.
Following its takeover of Express Newspapers, Trinity Mirror owns four national Sunday newspapers: the Sunday Express, Daily Star on Sunday, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.
Amid speculation at least one of these could face the axe, Jones said the People, his former title, is a “really strong newspaper”, adding: “It makes a considerable amount of money and it has a loyal readership.
“People have written the Sunday People off for years and it is still going strong. It’s certainly not going to disappear at all.”
Media commentator Liz Gerard, who has been critical of The Daily Express’s stance on immigration in the past, said Jones’s appointment was the “best news for the media this year”.
“This is the start of rebuilding what was once a really great newspaper,” she said, but acknowledged that Jones faced a difficult task.
“The new editor has to tread the line of bringing new people in and breathe life into the paper, but he’s also got to not scare off the current readers.
“I really hope he is rewarded with an increase in circulation, or at least arrest the decline, because that will show that you can make changes, you don’t have to just be stuck in your rut.”