Culture, Media and Sport//

Why people read the Daily Mail

Written by: Emma Burnell on 28 September, 2012
Filed under Culture, Media and Sport

There are plenty of reasons for those of us on the left to dislike the Daily Mail. Their tin-eared coverage of race and immigration issues and their columnists espousing hateful attitudes – from the mania of Liz Jones to just about everything ever written by Samantha Brick or Richard Littlejohn. Their attitude to science is decidedly questionable, as is their mission to divide the world into items that either cause or cure cancer. This is not a piece that will attempt to convince you of the value of any of these things, because I see no value in them.

But every day, 4.275 million people read the Daily Mail. Should we write these people off? Dismiss them as cruel, racist, homophobic, bile-spouting, vicious and easily led? Should we take the worst of what we know about the Daily Mail and judge everyone who read it by that? I don’t think we should.

For my job, every day I read The Independent, The Times, The Guardian, The FT and the Daily Mail. Here’s the thing; while my job is to scan the headlines and to make sure I have a handle on anything that might affect my area of work, every day there are stories that grab my attention, that interest me, that I save up to read over lunch. More often than not, these stories are in the Daily Mail.

These stories are about ordinary people who overcome difficulties: They survive disease, find their way through horrendous loss, fall out with their families and get over personal tragedies. These are not problems every one of us has, but problems every one of us can empathise with. These people (usually women) feel like me and you. Reading about their struggles and their triumphs, their fears and their hopes in a national daily newspaper, among all the stories of celebrities and politicians make these stories feel real and important, which they are.

I’m a leftie, metropolitan, political animal. Obsessed with politics and current affairs and the ins and outs of internal Labour politics. I find my passions pretty well covered by the Guardian. But my life? My friends? I don’t see those reflected back at me from those pages. The Guardian feels like a places that is for the likes of me to read, not to appear in. I love their arts, politics and current affairs coverage. But even the ordinary people stories in the magazine or G2 (and they are always separated from the newspaper proper) seem cooler and from a different world than mine. I love We Love Each Other – I just don’t think I’ll ever feature in it.

But if I had a tragedy or a triumph I wanted to share, I can see it being reported in the Daily Mail. As we bemoan the elitism of the political class, I don’t think we should discount the power of that feeling of belonging and recognition.

One of the most important complaints of the left about the Daily Mail is the way they take the most extreme examples of the issues they want to highlight (such as immigrants receiving housing support) and by highlighting it, insinuate that this is the norm, this is the whole of the truth. It’s wrong when the Daily Mail do it. Even though I prefer our intentions, we shouldn’t do it either.

The left – particularly the online left – have a habit of behaving in just exactly this way about the Daily Mail. Every now and then they will publish an article so utterly obnoxious that it’s sheer affrontery is breathtaking. It will be linked and tweeted and tweeted and linked as we are at once outraged and confirmed in our prejudices. But in doing so, we are being just as blinkered to the whole picture as the Mail itself choose to be on occasion.

The Daily Mail is a right wing paper. There is no denying that. But remember that the paper of Melanie Phillips is also the paper of Suzanne Moore. Remember that this is the paper who went out on a limb over Stephen Lawrence. Like most papers their politics reporting, large swathes of their commentary and their editorials are very political, and I can’t remember a time I’ve agreed with them. But like most paper, while their choice of stories may sometimes highlight narratives they are pushing and agendas they want to set, they are mostly aiming to entertain and inform.

Millions of people read the Daily Mail every day. Some of them already vote Labour and several more would consider doing so. If we use the short cut of the paper they read to dismiss them, we do ourselves and them a disservice.

I have never and will never advocate pandering to the same kind of prejudices evident in the Daily Mail. It’s anathema to everything I am in politics to achieve and to everything I believe Labour can and should do.

But politics – like much of our press – is missing that sense of people finding themselves recognisable as part of the narrative. Before we dismiss the Daily Mail out of hand, perhaps we could learn a little something about how they manage that so successfully.