I went along to the Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards (airing tonight on ITV at 8) the other night, and in addition to having a bloody great night it got me thinking about how a good tabloid can get things exactly right. The Mirror’s repeated airing of what is a classic piece of event TV is pitch perfect.
This is event TV- as are Britain’s Got Talent or the X Factor, for instance- because it gathers and broadcasts true, impactful stories in a major instance, drawing together disparate audiences and engaging them in irresistible conversation. Like the funfair sideshows of old, it’s a destination show, with unpredictable appeal and undeniable allure.
It’s a brilliant publicity stunt: with David Cameron, Prince Charles and Ed Miliband in attendance the Mirror benefits from ready-made gravitas and a direct line to the great and the good. Since John Hegarty’s seminal Guardian interview in June on the continued value of TV to advertisers, the accepted wisdom that TV is dying a death has been challenged and re-appraised. Its now official: event TV, with real stories, still has the power to grab attention, start conversation and really boost brands.
On a deeper level, though, this says something about the Mirror’s understanding of its audience, its function and its values. The Sun and the News of the World ran into trouble because they alienated their audiences- they disregarded honesty and simplicity in their practises.
The Mirror, in particular Peter Willis, whose brainchild the whole shebang was, understands the true worth of the story. The scoop and the angle are only meaningful so long as they engage with the beating heart of the reader. According to the awards’ press material, the reason for their success is simple: they ‘give the lie to the idea that we live in a selfish, cheap, materialistic society where no one cares for their neighbour’.
These are stories which provide powerful, emotive evidence in contravention to a negative zeitgeist. There’s a lot of friction there, and hence a lot of conversation generated. They’re pitched at the ideal tabloid audience: values driven, moral, switched on but not remote or overly intellectual.
It’s no wonder, of course: The Mirror has a rich heritage with this sort of thing. The reason Piers Morgan’s editorship was so heavily covered and criticised was that it broke with a long tradition of honest, grassroots reporting from a paper that was, after all, founded on the revolutionary and highly targeted ideal of establishing a newspaper for women, the paper that truly stuck its neck out with experiments like Mirrorscope, that has repeatedly and consistently campaigned against the centre-right/politically ambiguous line of virtually every other mainstream tabloid.
The Pride of Britain awards were inspiring not only because of the stories they presented- though even to my jaded old eyes some of these were truly extraordinary- but because of what these stories represent. They prove that, even amid the supposed collapse of the tabloid press in this country, some papers truly understand the value of a good story, the needs of their readers and the function of what a paper communicates to the world.