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June 25, 2013

Mohan preserved Sun’s rumbustious tradition in terrible times but was losing sales race with the Mirror

By Dominic Ponsford

Probably only Rupert Murdoch knows for sure why News Corp editors are hired and fired.

But for the most likely answer as to why Sun editor Dominic Mohan has abruptly left the editors’ chair at News Corp's flagship daily after four years, look at the sales.

The Sun still has a 10p price advantage at 40p versus the 50p Daily Mirror – but it is losing sales at a faster rate.

Last month The Sun, dropped 13.1 per cent year on year to 2,269,238 versus a much more modest 3.6 per cent year on year drop to 1,041,289 for the Daily Mirror. The Sun was up against a 30p cover price at the same time a year ago, but even looking at the month-on-month comparison – the Mirror is performing better.

The Sun admittedly has had to deal with the fact that more than 20 journalists – including many big-hitters – have been arrested, with nine charged and eight facing trial. But Trinity Mirror has cut something like 300 journalists from its national titles in recent years. Only one named serving Daily Mirror journalist has been arrested so far by police investigating hacking and bribes. 

The Sun out-guns The Mirror in terms of manpower and can out-pay for stories at every turn, so it should  be doing much better sales wise.

This Friday (28 June), publishing business News Corp splits from entertainment arm 21st Century Fox and chief executive Robert Thomson evidently wants all his ducks in a row from the outset.

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The Sun is approaching a crucial hurdle on 1 August when it goes behind a paywall and begins broadcasting near-live footage of Premier League Football games.

In his previous job as News International director of operations David Dinsmore was responsible for coordinating News International’s massive printing and delivery operations. A skillbase which extends beyond the editorial floor will clearly come in handy when it comes to triangulating such a huge technological shift for The Sun’s digital operation.

The Sun has gone through an awful period of turmoil and uncertainty over the last two years as its journalists have been turned over to the police on evidence provided by their own parent company. And the charges are all based on paying for stories – something which every Sun journalist will have been told to do as part of their job.

It has been well documented that there have been suicide attempts, breakdowns and dreadful anguish. Those who have been arrested face possible ruin, while many other staffers await to see if the finger of suspicion will fall on them.

Could any editor have steadied the ship under such circumstances? Perhaps not. But questions have been raised about whether Mohan did enough to publicly stand up for his staff.

Insiders are unclear what Mohan’s new job – as special advisor to News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson looking for opportunities in Europe – entails. And he does not appear to have an office or a staff in Wapping. 

Mohan’s Sun was the only paper to publish pictures which went around the world last year of Prince Harry cavorting naked in a Las Vegas hotel room (prompting some 3,800 complaints to the PCC).

He also ruffled feathers with the 'plebgate' front page which cost Andrew Mitchell his Cabinet job last year (and is currently the subject of a £150,000 legal action).

For my money it is a credit to Mohan that he managed to preserve a degree of The Sun’s tradition for rambustiousness at a time when it has been under such huge pressure and when the whole tabloid press has been in the shade of Leveson.

But the sales figures cannot lie and it seems that overall, readers believe The Sun has lost some of its fizz.

Successor Dinsmore now faces another tough year or so as many of his leading staffers face criminal trials (and for all we know there could still be yet more arrests).

It is to his credit that he has already spoken out in support of arrested colleagues.

His challenge now will be fight the corner of his staff, whilst operating a zero-tolerance policy on future wrongdoing while at the same time maintaining the edgy boundary-testing redtop journalism which is so much a part of The Sun’s DNA.

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