Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover says that hatred of his paper amongst left-wingers has increased enormously since last year’s Brexit vote.
But he believes it is based on a misconception of the title’s power.
He was speaking to Press Gazette (interview available here as a podcast) as he promotes his first novel, Splash!, which reads like a modern reworking of Evelyn Waugh’s 1938 classic Scoop.
Waugh’s book told the story of William Boot, a young nature columnist who found himself inadvertently posted overseas to report on the unfolding crisis in Ishmaelia.
In Glover’s book journalistic newcomer Benedict Brewster finds himself cast into the dreaded dungeon where the website of Bugle Online is produced.
Asked whether he was consciously inspired by Waugh, Glover says: “Scoop’s always been one of my favourite novels but I’d not read it for a long time until recently, after this was finished. One difference is I was amazed re-reading Scoop last week how relentlessly Waugh satirised all journalists, upmarket or tabloid
“The foreign editor Salter can’t even find Reykjavík on a map. The foreign correspondents are all untrustworthy or unpleasant. There isn’t really a decent journalist in the whole of Scoop and that doesn’t stop journalists loving Scoop.
“The whole process of journalism in Waugh’s view appears to be worthless. I don’t think he really liked journalism or thought that it was anything worth defending. I guess I take a different view.
“The hero of my book Sam Blunt is far from admirable – he’s always drinking – but basically his heart is in the right place, he’s brave and he wants to find out the truth of things and journalism needs people like that.”
Certain characters in the book, such as the sadistic deputy editor who runs Bugle Online, seem inspired by real Fleet Street characters. But Glover is clear that essentially Splash is “a fantasy, a caper”.
Glover was one of the founders of The Independent in 1986 and since 1998 has written a weekly column for the Daily Mail. He also writes a media column for The Oldie (making him one of the UK’s few remaining national press media columnists).
Asked what he makes of The Independent today, which survives only as a website since the print edition closed last year, he says: “It’s a very successful website, but it doesn’t have an awful lot in common with The Independent that we launched in 1986.
“It hasn’t got the foreign correspondents, hasn’t got the detailed home specialist articles which The Independent used to have. It’s just a different thing.
“I remember when The Independent closed Brian Cathcart said it didn’t make any difference it was just changing into a new form. That’s just not true, digital is so different that it must deliver journalism in a different way.
“If they were going to be profitable and increase their audience they had to produce a title that was very different not just from The Independent in 1986 but as it was when it closed.”
The Independent was founded partly as a reaction to the partisan nature of the British press. What does he make of recent UK general election coverage, which at times has resembled propaganda?
He says: “That’s true but it was ever thus. I don’t think they are more inclined towards propaganda than they were in previous elections, the difference is now of course that the circulation has fallen so much. The Sun was at the time of the 1983 election selling around 4m copies, it is now selling around 1.7m, that’s true across the board.
“The question is how powerful online newspapers are as propaganda vehicles. I suggest they are much less powerful as political vehicles than their print counterparts because that’s not what they are there to do.
“They are not about views and columnists, they are about other things. The press is as biased as it has ever been but it is much less important and social media has become more important.”
What does he say to those who hate the Daily Mail in particular because of the right-wing bias of its editorial coverage? The Mail was in particular heavily biased in its news and comment in favour of a vote for Britain to leave the European Union.
“It’s just one newspaper, the Daily Mail circulation has been in decline like other papers. There are 46m, adults who can vote, Daily Mail readership is about 3.5m, so between 7 and 8 per cent of the entire adult population reads the Daily Mail.
“You would think to read the criticisms of the Daily Mail it was single handedly responsible for Brexit. I think that it is pretty unlikely.
“I think most Daily Mail readers were probably going to vote for Brexit in the first place. I’m not saying that the Mail didn’t make some difference at the margins but it is accorded by its enemies a much more powerful role than is actually borne out by the facts.
“This hatred of the Daily Mail which you refer to, which is not universal – it has its supporters and admirers and is I believe a very good newspaper – this hatred of the Daily Mail has magnified enormously since Brexit – gone up ten-fold.
“The detestation for the Mail has risen enormously and I would argue it is based on a misconception of the Mail’s power.”
A recent book, Mail Men, tells the history of the paper and is particularly colourful when it comes to descriptions of current editor Paul Dacre’s apparently foul-mouthed and tyrannical leadership of the title.
What did Glover make of the book?
“I don’t recognise a lot of that. Although the Mail is quite a tough place and although people do get shouted out, you have to observe that it keeps its staff and people stay there and they stay there because they are on the whole well treated and think they are working for a highly professional newspaper that they respect.”
Glover is not on Twitter and says that, in common with most of his columnist friends, no longer reads the below-the-line comments posted to the online versions of his articles.
“Either people say what a wonderful column, I completely agree with you, or they write what a complete and utter arsehole you are – and you can only read so much of that sort of stuff.
“I’m not quite sure why newspapers print that stuff (online) I suppose it allows people to let off steam .”
Whilst Glover’s novel touches on the world of online journalism, it romanticises print and – as the title suggests – the power of a front-page story to change the world.
Asked how he views the current state of the newspaper industry he says: “They do remarkably well with the resources they’ve got. If you were going to compare them with what they had 25 years ago, you would see the decline of foreign news because foreign news is so expensive.”
It is notable that overseas travel is out of the question at the Daily Bugle as depicted in Splash! where circulation is flagging and budgets are tight.
Glover says: “We are told we live in a more global world where we should know more about what we are doing, yet that global world is reported much less than it was 50 years ago when we thought we were much more insular.
“The big things are covered but what isn’t covered is the second or third rank foreign story. The election in Poland or Portugal or a coup in some African country. When I joined the Telegraph in 1978 if there was a coup in some former colony immediately people would flood off and report it. Now it could happen and be scarcely noticed.”
Splash! Is published by Little, Brown in hardback priced £18.99.