The Invasion of the Brit Tabloid

October 22, 2020


I just read an article that sounded – to me at least – like “a canary in a coal mine” or an early warning of danger. This piece, written by Joe Pompeo, appeared in the May 2020 issue of Vanity Fair magazine with the title “The British Tabloid Invasion” and a subtitle that read, “How the Daily Mail is conquering American gossip.”

Invasion of the Brit Tabloid

The paparazzi horde, La Dolce Vita, 1960 – photo courtesy of Vanity Fair

Now, first things first: I have been hearing about this London newspaper all my life: it’s a nasty London newspaper (founded in 1896) that’s filled with unsavory gossip about celebrities. Or, said differently, the Daily Mail has been widely criticized for its unreliability as well as sensationalist and inaccurate stories of science and medical research. That said it has received the National Newspaper of the Year award from the British Press Awards eight times since 1995. The tabloid’s most recent win was in 2019 and it currently has a 1.2 million weekday print circulation.


In his dramatic take on this project, author Pompeo describes it this way. The is a larger-than-life British-American mash-up, a marriage of the marauding spirit of Fleet Street and the quixotic bravado of the U.S. digital-content boom.

Thanks to the New York- and Los Angeles-based web operation, it set up just over 10 years ago, the Mail has become American’s reigning tabloid titan, one that you get on your desktop or Smartphone instead of newsstands and supermarket checkout lines.


I remember him from when he worked in the U.S. He’s an energetic nonstop talker who, in his current job, has a knack for seizing on things that tick off everyday Americans (and Brits). Then he channels that anger into pithy essays that draw as many as two million readers apiece.


You’ll find ginormous photos and pesky banner ads that might crash your browser along with persistent grammatical and punctuation errors that might make you cringe. But who cares – it’s utterly addictive, and you’ll keep scrolling just like the other 80 million Americans and 240 million people around the world.


Back in the day, I used to watch her on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She was the only one I really paid attention to because it seemed to me she was the only one in the cast who combined brains with looks. Of course, her classy Brit accent helped. She says that she grew up with the print Daily Mail newspaper in England. “On a personal level,” she says, “They’ve always endeavored to give a very accurate picture of me and my family.”


Six years ago in 2014 Candace Trunzo, was hired to oversee with co-executive editor, Hugh Dougherty. She’s described as friendly, warm and fun to talk to – but when it comes to hot news she’s on a warpath.

The office for Trunzo and her warriors is in a modern glass tower on Astor Place, with a bright, open-plan bullpen, floor-to-ceiling windows and 360-degree views of Manhattan. They even have a Jeff Koons sculpture in the lobby.


One thing that author Pompeo emphasizes is that the Mail has been so successful in America because it puts its money where its mouth is – whether it’s on photos that cost tens of thousands of dollars or on flying journalists all over the country to pound the pavement, knock on doors and stake out the home of this celebrity or that. 

Last summer, got a tip that Maxwell, the Madame who solicited for Jeffrey Epstein, was in Massachusetts. She gave the Mail crew the slip but it was a blockbuster scoop nonetheless. “She’s our Waldo,” Trunzo told Pompeo a few months later – and “we’re gonna find her.”


Will all this chasing after people, digging into their background, watching every moment and reporting all of it, enrich our daily lives? Is that even in the equation? Let’s wait and see what happens. Right now, the Mail says that its web operation is profitable, with digital revenues up 15% to around $18.4 million in the 2019 fiscal year.

Pompeo asked Jim Cooper, the former longtime editor of Adweek, which put the Mail on its 2018 Publishing Hot List, if he thinks the Mail’s financial picture for its website is as bright as they’d have people believe. In his view, that’s beside the point. “I suspect they’re more concerned about the mindshare right now,” he said. “If they continue the mindshare, the market share will follow.”

UPDATE #1: On Friday, July 3, 2020, I woke up, turned on my computer and saw this: “Ghislaine Maxwell, 58 was arrested on Thursday, July 2nd in Bradford, which is 30 miles from Concord, the capital of New Hampshire. She reportedly has 15 bank accounts totaling more than $20 million.”

UPDATE #2: On Monday, July 6th, the Post reported that 24 armed FBI agents in 15 vehicles (with spy planes buzzing overhead) stormed Maxwell’s 156-acre hideaway. They used bolt cutters to break the lock on a metal gate and smashed down the front door to arrest her. “Just say we didn’t knock politely,” one said.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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