BOOK REVIEW / News company, three's a crowd: 'Paper Dreams' - Stephen Glover: Cape, 17.99 pounds
Sunday 23 May 1993
Hardly anybody, apart from those of Glover's close friends who resigned in sympathy with him, comes out well, even journalists who are widely held in high esteem. Nor does Glover pass over the opportunity of stirring it among those who remain. He delights in relaying his ex-colleagues' antipathy for one another, confided to him in moments of stress, which makes marvellously sadistic reading and will no doubt necessitate a lot of damage-limitation diplomacy in City Road.
At its best, Paper Dreams reminded me of Harold Evans's Good Times, Bad Times, which I imagine Glover took as his role-model. He is especially good at describing the physical characteristics of his colleagues in a few deft and generally undermining sentences, and there are some excellent anecdotes about mistresses, expenses, executive cars and doom-laden office parties.
Many of the conversations are quoted as direct speech, and, unless Glover has total recall or kept a voice-activated tape-recorder in his desk drawer, I wonder how he managed to remember them all in such detail, and whether his ex-colleagues will vouch for their accuracy. Nevertheless, he conveys very well the excitement surrounding the birth of the Independent - the clandestine meetings between the three founders, the raising of capital in the City, the wooing of staff, the succession of dummy issues as the design took shape - and much of this material will interest not just journalists but anyone who has dreamed of quitting a corporation and starting their own.
Next to Harold Evans's account of his battle with Rupert Murdoch, however, Glover is at a disadvantage. His two co-founders, Andreas Whittam Smith and Matthew Symonds, who are cast from the start as the bad guys of the story, can never match Murdoch for menace, so there is always a faint lacuna at centre stage. There is no sense, as there was in Good Times, Bad Times, that the editor is defending his newspaper against proprietorial assault and the imposition of lower standards. In the end this is simply a compelling story of office politics, involving three somewhat incompatible men who came together to create a new national newspaper, and how over time they got on each other's nerves.
It occurs to me that Stephen Glover might have been more sanguine about his predicament had he been employed by an old-school press baron. If you work for a proper tycoon, you expect to be sacked in due course, when your face no longer fits, and accept the probability as part of your working conditions.
But Glover had risked a lot to work outside the traditional hierarchy, in a partnership, and so his pain at its disintegration is the more acute. Sometimes in Paper Dreams he sounds like an aggrieved divorce whose ex-wives have somehow gained custody of the children.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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