Letter: Not so, Mr Trelford

LETTER:

Not so, Mr Trelford

Sir: As a mere editor, one enters a debate between professors of journalism at one's peril, but Donald Trelford ("Where is the Observer's guardian angel?" 16 June) really cannot be allowed to get away with it.

In his reply to Peter Cole's earlier article on the Observer, Mr Trelford says the circulation of that newspaper never fell below 550,000 while he was editor. How come then, that when I succeeded him as editor, we promptly got the news that sales had just dropped below 500,000 and were forecast to hit 450,000 by the end of the year?

Mr Trelford then refers to the Observer being named Newspaper of the Year in 1993 as if it was one of his achievements. In fact, the judges gave the paper the 1993 award precisely because of the improvements that followed Mr Trelford's departure. His sleight of the keyboard would beggar belief if it wasn't par for the course in the way the Observer's history has been rewritten by those who led it to the brink of being absorbed by the Independent on Sunday.

Part of this exercise involves denigrating those in charge of the Guardian at the time, and Mr Trelford duly quotes Alan Watkins muttering: "Who do they think they are?" Goodness knows, given how they behaved towards me subsequently, I hold no brief for Hugo Young or Peter Preston. But may I offer an answer to Mr Watkins' rhetorical question: "they thought they were the people who had saved the oldest Sunday paper from extinction - and quite rightly so since the Observer would not have appeared as an independent title for the past five years if the Guardian group had not bought it.

As for Mr Watkins, he speedily voted with his wallet: demanding a 30 per cent pay increase at a time when colleagues of his were losing their jobs. Otherwise, he said, he would cross to a rival paper. I refused his demand. So Mr Watkins left, and immediately dismissed me and my colleagues as peasants who did not understand the magic of the Observer in the era of Lonrho ownership. I can only offer thanks for such ignorance which enabled us to reverse the remorseless editorial decline under the Trelford all stars and to get sales back above 500,000 - without eating the rat sandwiches of the phoney Pharaoh special issue and African grovels.

JONATHAN FENBY

Editor

South China Morning Post

Hong Kong

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