Alison Phillips’ Diary: Why I don’t want to become the Mirror’s Margaret Thatcher

There’s no point in succeeding at the paper unless I also make it easier for other women to do the same.

The Mirror starts the week strongly with two exclusive stories. Following an 18-month investigation, our reporters Geraldine McKelvie and Nick Sommerlad have revealed that a child sex grooming ring in Telford is believed to be even worse than those previously discovered in Rotherham and Rochdale. The story is broken in the Sunday Mirror then continued in the Daily Mirror. Our competitors all follow it.

This has been a painstaking job for Geraldine and Nick: tracking down and then building up trust with abused girls, gaining access to key reports, trying to discover why the authorities failed to act quicker.

On Monday the Mirror also breaks the story of former Liverpool player turned Sky pundit Jamie Carragher spitting at a Manchester United fan and his 14-year-old daughter. Our reporter Paul Byrne gets hold of mobile phone footage of the moment where Carragher lets rip with such force he looks like one of those gargoyle fountains.

There’s a good old fashioned bit of argy-bargy between us and the Sun over who gets the video, but the Mirror is victorious.

Telford and Carragher are great hits for us online and in print. And they’re a timely reminder of how while we might have more media than ever before – more channels, more outlets, more platforms, more opinions – without stories and the reporters to unearth them, it is nothing but noise.

Grey lava

The pile of old newspapers, cuttings, circulation reports and budget figures on my desk slides ever further on to the desks opposite, like thin grey lava from a newsprint volcano. The sad bit is there is no one to force back the tide of detritus any longer. My colleagues Caroline Waterston, Gary Jones and Jon Clark, who sat beside and diagonally opposite me, have all gone – they are the brave pioneers who’ve taken up editorships at the Express and Star newspapers, which the Mirror group has recently acquired.

Under strict rules from the Competitions and Markets Authority, which is carrying out an investigation into the Mirror buying Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, we are no longer allowed to speak to our former colleagues about work-related issues. (I did receive one text message from Caroline saying she’d seen her first mouse in the Thames-side office, but I think that was definitely a vermin-related – rather than work-related – issue.) In the absence of a morning chat with my colleagues I read their papers closely – already the energy this trio are injecting into the titles is paying dividends.

Organ recital

The Press Awards are always a big night in the journalistic calendar. Well, big for bar takings at the Park Lane Hilton. It’s a decent year for the Mirror and we are particularly pleased with Andrew Gregory (formerly our health editor, now political editor) winning for spearheading our campaign to change the law on organ donation. Following a two-year campaign by the Mirror a private member’s bill to change the law to an opt-out rather than opt-in donor system was successful last month.

For us, this kind of campaign is at the heart of what the Mirror is. It was the Mirror that campaigned for ships to have enough lifeboats for all passengers – not just wealthy Kate Winslet types – after the sinking of
the Titanic.

Women’s work

On Thursday we are discussing gender equality. Over the past year we have set up Women Together – a network for women employed across all of Trinity Mirror’s titles, which, as well as our nationals, includes big regionals such as the Manchester Evening News, Newcastle Chronicle, Liverpool Echo and Daily Record.

The ambition is to establish a level playing field that enables all women staff to fulfil their potential. Newsrooms were traditionally more testosterone-charged than Millwall on a Saturday afternoon. The old days of heavy drinking and light reporting have long since gone. But there is still work to be done by all of us to overcome unconscious bias. As I’ve got older (although not that old, obviously) I’ve increasingly felt a weight of responsibility to help other women. There’s no point in having done well at the Mirror if I don’t make it more possible for others to do the same. I definitely don’t want to become the Mirror’s Margaret Thatcher (an image to have the readers frothing at the mouth).

Mini McBeals

On Saturday I proudly watch my eldest son take part in a magistrates’ court mock trial competition. It is utterly terrifying to see him take to the floor to cross-examine a “witness” from another school. We’ve practised this endlessly at home – I bought him a box set of Crown Court for Christmas (which was far more dull than I remembered from sick days in the 1970s) and we’ve watched the court scene from The IT Crowd at least a dozen times. 

He and his schoolmates all do well. But the confidence of some of the 13-year-old girls he is competing against is extraordinary. Like mini Ally McBeals. It seems more unjust than ever that should these girls make it all the way to a career in law they will be earning 25 per cent less than the boys standing opposite them.

Celebrity juice

The week ends much as it began with another great Mirror exclusive, in the form of pictures of a car smashed up by TV presenter Ant McPartlin in a crash. Afterwards he is arrested on suspicion of drink-driving.

The Sun get its own pictures too and it becomes a race to break the story.

There are those who sniff at such showbiz matter. Sniff, then devour every detail. It’s our job to mix the celebrity with the compelling, the trifling with the thought-provoking.  And we are very proud of that. Most importantly it’s our job to never, ever be dull… 

Alison Phillips is deputy editor-in-chief of Trinity Mirror

This article appears in the 22 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Easter special