And now for something serious

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On one journalistic trend, and one only, Richard Desmond, the proprietor of Express Newspapers, was ahead of the field. His round of redundancies at the start of the year heralded the cold wind that was to blow not just through Fleet Street but, even more strongly, through the television and advertising industries.

As advertising revenues fell sharply, the effects spread to the normally prosperous. The Daily Telegraph ended the year by cutting 10 per cent of its editorial work force. The Times was among a number of national papers operating a recruitment freeze. In television, the year ended with Granada axing 1,000 jobs, Carlton with a £409m deficit axing 400 jobs, and even Channel 4 losing 8 per cent of posts and cutting programme budgets by 3 per cent. A number of digital channels disappeared including Adam Faith's unfortunately named Money Channel. Newspapers didn't always live up to their titles either. Sunday Business only just survived the year, losing millions of pounds, two editors and a number of staff.

And so it's a natural reaction to look back on 2001 as a particularly bleak one for the industry. There was a fair bit of human error too. The BBC had to give an on-air apology to a jewel company it wrongly identified as helping al-Qa'ida. The Sunday Mirror published an interview relating to the Leeds United footballers' trial, causing the £8m case to be tried again and the editor Colin Myler to resign. Other equally baffling mistakes showed the highest paid in the press and TV were capable of appalling boobs. The normally shrewd scheduler David Liddiment, the ITV director of channels, put on The Premiership at 7pm on a Saturday night when the rest of the country could have told him that was the wrong time. John Simpson showed that no satirist can equal a reporter with an adrenaline drive when he announced on the Today programme that he and the BBC had "liberated" Kabul.

And yet there was a heartening side to 2001, even if it did arise from awful events. In the aftermath of 11 September there was a rethinking of editorial values that could have long-term effects. Experienced reporters found that they were needed to report on and explain a world that had changed forever. John Simpson may not have liberated Kabul. But he, this paper's Robert Fisk, and a host of journalists of a similar vintage showed the unique value of on-the-spot reporting.

Every paper devoted acres of space, that in balance-sheet terms they could ill afford, not just to the terrorist attacks but to the aftermath. Piers Morgan, editor of The Mirror, claimed to have rediscovered serious journalism and his paper saw a rise in circulation, while The Sun misjudged its readers, kept showbiz on its front pages, and saw readership drop.

Now, perhaps inevitably, all titles are finding it impossible to hold on to the surge of readers that came after 11 September. It will be a great test of Morgan and his Mirror to see if he keeps his commitment to serious journalism with Mirror sales their lowest since 1946, or whether Yelland keeps favour with Rupert Murdoch, with The Sun selling fewer copies than at any time since 1974. Broadsheets too have seen sales drop, with much head scratching about why the newspaper-buying habit has failed to grab the young. The expansion this year of the Metro free papers (800,000 copies, making it the sixth largest daily) would seem to be one of the answers.

The year has seen its successes, however, and with those successes important shifts. Lorraine Heggessey's BBC1 briefly overtook ITV1 as the nation's most popular channel, but BBC1's heavy reliance on crime dramas, like the heavy reliance by BBC2 (the only terrestrial channel to show audience growth) on leisure programming, left a nagging feeling that all was not quite as well as the audience figures led one to believe. Melvyn Bragg, presenter of ITV's The South Bank Show, was speaking from genuine anxiety as well as self interest when he publicly lamented the dearth of arts programmes on the BBC.

But it is more seasonal to dwell on the fun, provided as always by the media's very own. Rebekah Wade, editor of the News of the World, waited until December to prove that she was not suffering from lifelong laryngitis, and was prepared to defend her paper on television. Piers Morgan and David Yelland baffled their readers with attacks on each other in print. Yelland called Morgan "a spiv". Morgan retaliated by calling Yelland "a spiv". Oscar Wilde, it seems, is not high on either's reading list. Conrad Black at last got the peerage he desired, made plans to start a paper in New York, but seemed happiest in the role of ordinary letter writer to his organ, The Spectator over its Middle East coverage. Elisabeth Murdoch had a baby and got married; her septuagenarian father Rupert got married and had a baby.

Most of them deserve prizes for bringing some light relief to a dark year. But my prize goes to the board of Channel 4, who paid large sums to headhunters to scour both sides of the Atlantic for a new chief executive. They eventually found their man hiding as director of television at the BBC.

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