An old boy looks for new Europeans: Roy Greenslade reports on the latest events in the European's brief but stormy history (CORRECTED)
Wednesday 17 August 1994
The European is a strange newspaper. It was founded as an act of vanity by Robert Maxwell at the height of his megalomania. Almost everyone expected it to fail in spite of the millions he lavished on it. Once he died, the paper came within a whisker of dying, too.
It was saved largely because its then deputy editor, Charles Garside, in a remarkable show of faith, risked his own bank account to keep it going when all the staff were fired.
Garside then managed to convince reclusive millionaire twins to buy the paper and instal him as editor. He rehired staff, got the show back on the road and gradually lifted the circulation towards some kind of respectability.
All was going smoothly until a new management figure moved in, upset the easy-going Garside and ousted him in September last year. Sales began to fall away. So six weeks ago the manager was fired, and Garside was reappointed editor-in-chief.
Even in the volatile world of newspapers, that's a topsy-turvy history to squeeze into three years. 'Quite extraordinary,' says the laconic Garside as he contemplates what he calls 'the new era' for the European.
From this month the paper is being published from smart offices on the top floor of ITN's Gray's Inn Road headquarters, after leaving shabby offices next to the empty Mirror Group building. The last link with Maxwell is severed. 'You can't help feeling the ghosts in this place,' said Garside a few days before the move.
He does not share the widely-held view that his newspaper is an enduring example of Maxwell's foresight. 'The only valuable thing he left was the name.' Garside lists Maxwellian mistakes that saddled the paper with problems since its launch in May 1990. Printing and distribution were badly organised; advertising sales were haphazard; millions were wasted on daft contracts; Maxwell's Eastern Europe interests unbalanced the paper. 'It's taken a lot of time and effort to turn it all round,' he says. 'But we're getting there slowly.'
The paper was bought from the administrators - who moved in after Maxwell's pension plunder came to light - by the shipping and hotel tycoons David and Frederick Barclay. At that time the paper was selling just 80,000 and many presumed it would fail. In fact, circulation built up within six months to 150,000, and a year later reached 167,000.
Its audience clearly liked the design and content, concise summaries of the main news stories from every European country. There was a comprehensive business section, and a stylish lifestyle supplement.
But the managing director, a friend of the Barclays, fell ill and his replacement, Greg MacLeod, a former accountant with the administrators Arthur Andersen, soon exhibited a management style at odds with Garside's.
Garside resigned in September 1993, when sales were believed to be heading towards 200,000. When he said this was an 'amicable and mutual parting' few believed him. His job was given to Herbert Pearson, a former Mirror man who had worked at the European from its earliest stages under Maxwell.
Garside joined the Daily Mirror as a consultant for six months and was just about to take a job elsewhere when the Barclays called and asked him to return. Sales had begun to slip. Pearson was happy to step aside for his old friend, and MacLeod had departed, so Garside took back the job most of the 67 journalists believe is his by right.
He has just hired a new head of advertising ('11 years with Time') and a marketing director ('four years with Newsweek'). Distribution has improved. A big push for subscribers is on its way. Sales are said to be close to 170,000.
Says Garside: 'We have the biggest pan-European news stand sale, beating the International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Europe, Time and Newsweek. Now we're going to compete for subscriptions.'
But what is the European for? 'We want the people of Europe to be involved in where Europe is going. We offer a forum for that debate. Where else can it happen?'
One problem still to be solved is the difficulty of attracting advertising, but Garside argues that this is about to turn the corner.
He admits the European loses money, but says it is a lot less than in Maxwell's profligate days. The Barclays - who are as different from Maxwell as it is possible to imagine - are not complaining. They are hardly likely to pull the plug at this point.
On our media page of 17 August we published an article which dealt with recent changes at the European newspaper. We should make it clear that we did not intend to suggest that Gregory MacLeod, the paper's former manager, had a management style which was inappropriate or that he ousted the then editor of the European, Charles Garside. In addition we wrongly suggested that during the course of Mr MacLeod's tenure as manager of the newspaper, sales of the European began to fall and that as a result Mr MacLeod was fired.
We accept that none of the above assertions are true, and that in particular during the period when Mr MacLeod was manager of the European sales actually improved, and furthermore that he left the newspaper by mutual consent. We apologise to Mr MacLeod for any distress our report may have caused him.
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