Our secret tabloid insider working shifts at the Daily Mail shares his take on what life is really like working in Northcliffe House.
Another week in Northcliffe House. The great Art Deco block that squats on High Street Kensington and is home to the UK’s most-read news brand: DMG Media. Inside, across our titles, is where we make, fake and break the news for millions of readers each day.
I work for the Daily Mail newspaper – the last, old school bastion of the British tabloid. When it comes to the dying print media, we are dying the slowest out of the remaining heavyweights. The engine room is crammed with sluggers and southpaws that manoeuvre their way to daily deadline out of sheer survival.
Every afternoon, as I make my way into Northcliffe House on Derry Street, smoking journalists flank the staff and reception entrances. Once I’ve made it through the secured revolving doors using my access card, I’m in. Now it’s the escalator into the huge atrium and then an elevator to the third floor – the floor of the bullpen.
It’s the day after the Tyson Fury v Deontay Wilder rematch and I spent the shift going to the toilets to watch snippets of ‘THE BEST HEAVYWEIGHT KNOCKOUTS’. It was quite an achievement given that the YouTube video was more than 20 minutes long.
When news breaks in more specialised areas, experts start springing up in pockets of the office. As a rule, I always try to dodge any analysis based on 30-second blasts on Wikipedia. Everyone is now either a long-time boxing fan or thinks “that’s such a dumb sport, you wouldn’t catch me in a ring”.
The Daily Mail newsroom is more like a mass brawl than a one-on-one contest. A 40-man melee in which reporters, sub editors, editors, designers and the picture desk square up to each other in a mix of unbridled rage and bored autopilot. We know that the gig is rigged yet spend each shift abusing positions, pushing our stamina and changing the narrative in the name of entertainment.
This is a game of endurance and those who make it through either do so by bullish brute force or by rolling with the upper cuts, jabs and hooks served up by a bevy of senior staff.
Speaking of punchdrunk beasts, I catch sight of the Harvey Weinstein trial on one of the wall projections. There’s debate as to what third-degree rape is and a frenzied Google. I hear one sub consulting a reporter: “This third-degree rape. That’s a New York thing isn’t it. What does that mean over here?”
what the papers don’t say
“It’s when someone can’t be done for first or second-degree rape,” they reply.
“Great, that’s really, really helpful,” says the sub. “Remind me was it Christ’s or Queens you were at?”
“Oh the indignity,” the sub shoots back. “I’ll Google it, forget it.”
“Yeah, that’ll look good on your search history mate.”
I’m taken off ‘tl/weinsteinverdict25’ as the page gets redrawn. While I’m waiting for my next piece, I stare back at the wall of news channels. I catch a glimpse of Danielle Hindley – the Yorkshire beautician who recently won a libel case against a false Mail on Sunday story. It’s the first mention of her inside the newsroom. In any case it’s nothing to do with the daily. The Mail on Sunday is a different paper with a different leader. But openly discussing a gross error like that is the same as mentioning an alcoholic uncle at a family party: it’s best just to crack on handing out the mini sausage rolls and acting like everything’s fine.
My coach assigns something new called ‘duffy’. The intro reads: “In an extraordinary online post, singer Duffy last night told how she was ‘raped and drugged and held captive’.”
We’re not supposed to squeeze the text. It’s the equivalent of cheating for a sub, but senior editors turn a blind eye. If I don’t squeeze, the single word ‘captive’ would bust the line and sit on its own all by itself. I use a tool in InCopy to mush the letters together and ‘captive’ pops up onto the third line. Now the sentence looks cramped and ugly but adrenaline levels are rising and I need to cut corners to stay in the game.
When I first began here I was a craftsman, a real professional for stuff like that. I would strut the ring and scream about the importance of standards and integrity. In the case of ‘duffy’ I would have argued that we didn’t need the word “extraordinary” to describe a post which reveals a famous woman was ‘raped, drugged and held captive’, it’s obvious.
The assistant night editor is clearly struggling. This could be a long night.