Bill Hagerty on the press

How Trevor Kavanagh has secured his place in the sun
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The Independent Online

Were The Sun, in customary inimitable style, to publish a poster front page about a particular member of its own staff, the headline would be: "Is this the most powerful man in Britain?" Trevor Kavanagh isn't, of course, but there can be no doubting that he is the national-newspaper political editor most likely to curl the wallpaper and chip the paint in the corridors of power.

Were The Sun, in customary inimitable style, to publish a poster front page about a particular member of its own staff, the headline would be: "Is this the most powerful man in Britain?" Trevor Kavanagh isn't, of course, but there can be no doubting that he is the national-newspaper political editor most likely to curl the wallpaper and chip the paint in the corridors of power.

According to a media "Hot 100" power-list published earlier this year, Kavanagh is the eighth most influential figure in the industry spectrum. He leapt 48 places from his position the previous year, mainly because of the impending general election, which will, of course, be on 5 May. We know this because Kavanagh told us so (yes, it had been floated previously, but it is rumoured that even the Government couldn't be certain until the date received the oracle's seal of approval).

Tomorrow, Kavanagh will receive the award of Political Journalist of the Year from the Political Studies Association. Last week, his sensational advance leak on the Hutton Report won him the Foreign Press Association award for Print Story of the Year. In between clearing space on his sideboard, he produces revelation after revelation that can be guaranteed to rattle teeth in Parliament.

Just how good is Kavanagh, compared with his contemporaries and past giants of political journalism? He modestly insists that neither awards nor inflated estimations of the power he wields would be coming his way if he worked for a paper not possessing the mass popular appeal of The Sun. But circulation muscle can be only part of the reason why high-quality scoops are regularly propelled in his direction. Political acumen, tenacity, and a list of contacts second to none generate Kavanagh's phenomenal strike rate.

Kavanagh himself rates the late Gordon Greig, of the Daily Mail, as top of the past and present political editors' league. Greig, who died in 1995 when only 63, was, says Kavanagh, a master of the world of politics and of how to make contacts and get them to talk to him. Most of all, he loved his work with a great passion. Joe Haines, as fierce a political editor for the Daily Mirror as he had been a press officer for Harold Wilson, said in his address at Greig's funeral: "A reporter was all he ever wanted to be. He was neither ambitious nor ruthless enough to be an editor, nor malicious enough to be a columnist."

Kavanagh, another supreme reporter, shares many of Greig's qualities, even though he did not set out to become a player on the political stage. Having left school at 17 to take up journalism, he was working in Australia on Rupert Murdoch's Sydney Daily Mirror when he gave up reporting to become a sub-editor because he thought that it would be a fast track to promotion. Expediency determined that he was transferred to political reporting - "Nobody else could do shorthand," he says.

He was hooked immediately, and now says that if he had his time again, he would make it his prime objective to get into political journalism, because "in the final analysis, everything in daily life stems from what's decided in Westminster. I feel perpetually privileged to be here."

Now 61, he has been The Sun's political editor for more than 20 years. Generous in his praise of many of his opposite numbers on opposition papers, he none the less continues to crack more political skulls than the rest of them put together. When New Labour's hierarchy dances attendance on Murdoch, the eighth most influential person in the media is never far from their thoughts.

Telegraph special offer seems suicidal

As much as I do not wish to add to the woes of the Telegraph Group, still coming to terms with ownership by the Barclay brothers following the now notorious profligacy of Lord Black, I am puzzled by what seems to me a practically suicidal recent subscription offer. Lucky punters could sign up to receive The Daily Telegraph and its Sunday sister for just £1.50 a week - a discount of more than 70 per cent on the normal total weekly cost of £5.40. Admittedly, in order to save £187.20, one had to pay £72 upfront for 48 weeks' worth of papers, but even with money in the bank, it's unlikely that the deal could turn a profit.

I pointed out, helpfully, to the company's direct-marketing department that the more people who subscribed under the best terms of the bargain, the greater the potential loss. After all, the retailer's share of the cover prices would amount to almost the whole of the £1.50 weekly charge. In response, I was told that the upfront money, plus revenue from advertising and increased sales, made such an offer worthwhile.

Pardon? There can be little or no revenue from £1.50, upfront or not; sales of both the daily and Sunday are down year-on-year, and surely advertising is not significantly boosted by such promotions?

On the other hand, said my apparently bewildered informant, the offer could be a short-term loss leader. He'd check. The rest is silence. For the sakes of the Barclays' wallets, I hope that the term was very short indeed.

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