The Cudlipp ethos
Since 2005, the London College of Communication has been the proud host of the annual Hugh Cudlipp Lecture. Every year, the speaker of the lecture – a high profile media professional – addresses the latest developments and issues of today’s news outlets.
This year’s speaker is Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times. Former speakers include journalists such as BBC’s Andrew Marr, former Sun editor Rebekah Wade and Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian.
While the speakers may be well known to young students, less might be known about the man whom the lecture is named after – Hugh Cudlipp.
Born in Cardiff in 1913, Cudlipp was one of three brothers who would all go on to forge careers in national newspapers. He left school at the age of 14 and worked for a variety of local newspapers across the country before taking up his first editorial position with the Daily Mirror in 1938.
At the time, tabloid papers in the UK were under heavy control by their owners, who often abused their papers for political propaganda. This had an alienating effect on readers who wanted stories relating to their lives and problems. Newspaper sales were plummeting, especially at the Mirror where Cudlipp was appointed editorial director in 1952. However, Cudlipp was about to implement changes that would turn his paper around and change the concept of popular journalism in the UK forever.
Cudlipp’s formula for success was built on the so-called ‘shock issues’. The consequences of an extreme divide between the poor working class and the rich was one of the brutal realities of Britain at the time. Cudlipp addressed these issues in his paper using bold headlines, lively writing in everyday language and strong opinions.
Compelling black and white pictures of starving children and provocative cartoons of soldiers suffering in war, captured the spirit of a nation that rewarded the new honest style of journalism with record-breaking sales.
The Daily Mirror became the UK’s most popular newspaper of the mid-60s with a daily circulation of over five million.
The Daily Mirror’s brutal honesty proved to be an irritation for some and the paper had to withstand two attacks by the then government over allegations of biased reporting and sensationalism.
Cudlipp answered these questions indirectly in his second book ‘Publish and be damned’: “Sensationalism does not mean distorting the truth. It means the vivid and dramatic presentation of events so as to give them a forceful impact on the mind of the reader.” The Mirror lost a court case, but not its reputation for genuine reporting in the public interest.
Hugh Cudlipp was knighted in 1973, the year he retired from the Daily Mirror, but he remained active in public life as a consultant for the government, adviser to Mirror Group Newspapers and author of numerous books and articles.
Always concerned with the quality of tabloid journalism, Lord Cudlipp noticed a decline in standards in the 80s: “Mirror newspapers are now rarely mentioned in any significant sense; … Popularity isn’t enough.” He also recognised a lack of “identifiable and consistent standards of journalistic judgement and behaviour” amongst all tabloids in the UK.
Unfortunately, since then not much seems to have changed for the better; journalists are allegedly hacking phones, disguising as constituents to get hold of scandalous quotes and paying enormous sums of money to expose footballing scandals.
The need for awareness of journalistic standards in the popular press has led Cudlipp’s widow Jodi and some his closest friends and former colleagues to set up the Hugh Cudlipp Trust.
Amongst the trustees are renowned journalists and editors such as Margaret Allen (former Financial journalist and Features Editor The Times), Felicity Green (Associate Editor Daily and Sunday Mirror, and the first woman to be appointed to the main board of a national newspaper), Geoffrey Goodman (former Industrial Editor, Columnist and Assistant Editor Mirror Group), Anthony Delano (former Chief European Correspondent, Chief American Correspondent and Managing Editor Daily Mirror and lecturer at LCC) and Paul Charman (Head of Journalism LCC).
Every year the trust organises an annual award for journalism students of £1000. One of the most famous Cudlipp quotes shows his passion: “God, it was fun. So far as journalism was concerned I didn’t do a stroke of work in my life. It was a pleasurable mental exercise. I was paid frugally at first and sumptuously later on, but was always surprised I was paid at all...”