The other newspapers - part 1

For all the sensationalism in its coverage, the newspaper industry in the 1980s was highly conservative in its structure. The major titles had been in existence and held much the same market positions for the whole of the 20th century: the Daily Mail and Daily Express as right-wing popular papers and the Daily Mirror as Labour leaning; The Times, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times as conservative up-market papers and The Guardian (originally the Manchester Guardian) as a liberal mouthpiece. Sunday newspapers reflected a similar pattern.

In effect, they operated as a cartel, driving out or taking over the weaker newspapers and keeping newcomers out of the business. They were making huge amounts of money from advertising and sales revenues and were able to use their market power to cut cover prices and discount advertising rates in their favour and keep the costs of production too high for newcomers to afford.

Two significant players had been forced to the wall: the liberal News Chronicle and the pro-Labour Daily Herald once published by the TUC. The Daily Herald was bought by the group that owned the Daily Mirror and re-launched in 1968 as The Sun. But it could not compete and was on the verge of closure when its purchase by Rupert Murdoch, hard on the heels of his acquisition of the News of the World, began the great shift towards his market dominance.

When he added The Times and The Sunday Times in 1981 his dominance was unprecedented, with more than a third of overall newspaper sales and dominant positions in both popular and serious markets.

The national newspaper groups controlled most of the regional press; the four biggest groups of local newspapers were part of the same groups that owned the Daily Mail, Financial Times, the Daily Express and the Thomson group which had sold Times Newspapers titles to Murdoch. Nearly all of them had stakes (limited by regulation) in commercial television that were even more profitable businesses whose lucrative franchises were memorably called “licences to print money” by Lord Thomson.  Owning TV companies was a form of insurance against a decline in newspaper advertising, a strategy that Murdoch was to follow himself.