10 questions for Daily Mail boss Paul Dacre

The editor's appearance before the Leveson inquiry is the perfect time to ask about Mail Online.

The editor's appearance before the Leveson inquiry is the perfect time to ask about Mail Online.{C}

The timing couldn't be better. Just as Paul Dacre prepares to appear before the Leveson inquiry, his newspaper appears to be vindicated over its calls for Fred "The Shred" Goodwin. Coming so soon after Dacre's slightly odd appearance on his own website, proclaiming the value of his publication's campaign in the Stephen Lawrence case, it's a time to celebrate the Daily Mail, isn't it? While it will be easy to point to the inflated role of the press in general -- and the Mail in particular -- in the Stephen Lawrence case, there's not as much to shout about when it comes to Mail Online.

Sure, it's the No 1 news website in the world; which would be a real bauble worth having if most of the traffic came there to look at news. But get beneath the bold headlines and political comment and you'll see a bewilderingly high number of stories about obscure (to British readers, anyway) American celebrities on holiday, wearing bikinis or being "poured into" (a favourite phrase, this, of Mail Online's) swimwear or little black dresses. As The Media Blog pointed out last week, you have to ask whether this recipe for success is really something to shout about.

Maybe it is. Maybe Paul Dacre is delighted to have the Mail brand associated with softcore masturbators seeking out cheesecake images of women in lingerie and bikinis -- though I doubt that would be the first thing he would bring up when asked about the relative success of Mail Online and what it means for the future of journalism. But as editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, and a highly remunerated editorial expert on the Daily Mail and General Trust board, he'd be hard pressed to claim it's nothing to do with him.

All that aside, there are other nagging issues about Mail Online: photos used without the takers' permission; articles that border on the tasteless and unethical which are only pulled after they've attracted thousands of visitors to add to Mail Online's growing statistics; hundreds of stories about young children who happen to have famous parents; trashy articles speculating on the weight gain (or loss) of (mainly female) celebrities. How does that kind of activity sit with the Mail brand?

So here are 10 questions for Paul Dacre ahead of his appearance before Leveson about Mail Online and whether its standards live up to those of his flagship printed edition.

1) Do you think it is appropriate to embed a 7 minute video of an alleged rape in a story about an alleged rape in Brazil's Big Brother? The footage was available to view for several hours.

2) Do you think it is acceptable to use photographs from Facebook/Twitter/Flicker/blogs without the permission of the copyright holder, even when that person has explicitly denied permission?

If not, why does it keep happening? Would the rules be different for photographs sourced for the print edition of the Mail?

3) Do you think it is appropriate to run stories about children where the reason for their newsworthiness is their family connection to a public figure, for example 572 stories about Suri Cruise, including the agenda-setting "The tiring life of Suri Cruise: Katie Holmes' daughter snuggles up in her favourite pink 'blankie'"?

4) How does this sit when bearing in mind the PCC Editor's Code, section 6, part v: "Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life"?

5) Do you use pictures taken by paparazzi photographers where the person being photographed is on holiday or in other situations where they may have an expectation of privacy? Why were pictures of Rebekah Brooks on holiday (along with caption comments about her paleness) with her partner removed from the Mail website initially and then repurposed to illustrate a story about another NI employee being arrested?

6) Do you believe it is acceptable to digitally manipulate photographs without making the reader aware manipulation has taken place? Here's one example, and there was another where the PCC intervened: Here's an image on the website today.

7) What editorial considerations are made before the decision to run stories about weight gain/loss of celebrities? There are hundreds of examples but here and here are a couple on the Mail's website today.

8) What procedures do you have in place to deal with complaints about stories on Mail Online?

9) How many stories about women in bikinis do you run each month on Mail Online?

10) Are you as proud of the Mail Online as you are of the Daily Mail?

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit