John Walsh's Media Diary

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The Independent Online

Much scratching of heads in media land over the Evening Standard's proposed "free edition". Why in heaven's name would anyone bring out a slimmed-down version (48 pages instead of 72) of the day's paper, printed in between the first and second editions, and dished out gratis to people at lunchtime? Some say they're trying to attract the mysterious market of women lunchers and shoppers who don't usually buy a newspaper. Some think it's the "chav" edition - the one whose pages do not include the thoughts of Brian Sewell or Anne McElvoy. Some think it's a response to Richard Desmond's proposal to launch an "afternoon" newspaper and threaten the Standard's lucrative classified advertising. (But what if he was only kidding?) More likely it's a circulation strategy. With the Standard's sales falling sharply - year on year sales are down 10 per cent, from 421,000 to 381,000 - it would be nice if the paper's owner, Associated, could include sales of the freebie in the ABC figures. But there's a rule that, to be quoted in ABC figures, a paper has to have a cover price, even if it's only 1p. Which is why the Standard has discussed putting a 20p cover price on its etiolated freebie, and letting readers take it away for nothing. God, the Machiavellian cunning...

Veronica Wadley, the Standard's formidable editrix, is the epitome of everything that is urban, trendy, metropolitan, democratic and down-to-earth. I expect that's why she's hired a horse to go foxhunting on New Year's Day. Oh, give her a break. At least she didn't buy the bloody thing.

In the wake of the Bhopal hoax - when the BBC was duped by internet scammers into reporting that victims of the Bhopal disaster were to get £12bn compensation - the corporation has appointed Mark Popescu to investigate how such a sensitive story could get through unchecked to the 10am news bulletins. It suggests a serious lapse of judgement on someone's part. Mr Popescu is the right man for the job. He knows a thing or two about truth and falsity. He probably remembers when the BBC broadcast a damning story, two years ago, about a shareholder in a Congolese diamond mine who was in prison for bombing American embassies in East Africa, and suspected of being in league with al-Qa'ida. Unfortunately, the reporter got the chap's name wrong and ended up being sued for defamation by Oryx Natural Resources. Oryx wanted £12m for the blow to their reputation (which would have been the BBC's largest-ever libel payout) but finally settled in November 2002 for £500,000. Mr Popescu was editor of the BBC's Ten O'Clock News on the night in question. He was criticised for a "serious error of judgement".

While news staff at the BBC continue trying to work out just how many jobs will be cut to fulfil their 15 per cent "contribution" to the total cull - will it be 2,900, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 or, gulp, 10,000? - mutinous voices can be heard in Radio Five Live, Children's TV and BBC Sports at the decision to move them, lock, stock and smoking barrels, to Manchester in the next three years or so. The BBC's Sports department is a heavily branded presence at Wood Lane. Visitors find themselves walking down a rubber floor covered in a sequence of sporting impedimenta: life-size football goalposts, rugby balls, tennis courts, a golf course, even a few rowing boats. This level of journalistic commitment to a subject is rare indeed. But when the muttering throng are all relocated up north, who will the BBC move into these hallowed corridors?

Man Walks Into Bar Joke No 241. All week there have been reports of media mogul turned social casualty Chris Evans hanging out in the bar of the Groucho Club for hours on end, regaling friends with drinks and listening to the pianist playing "Moon River" in the style of Dooley Wilson. But I fear Evans's residency there has gone to his head. One evening he came in with some lady friends, walked over to an occupied table, picked up the wine bottle and poured himself a glass. "Excuse me," said a disgruntled club member, "is that your wine?" Evans reportedly became upset and strenuously vocal, said, "Do I look like the sort of person who needs to steal wine, you ----? Who the fuck do you think you are?" and invited him outside. The member managed to mollify Evans, but five minutes later the ginger impresario was back, insisting the chap in question left the bar (he declined). Frankly, if this is what happens when you make £75m from a media empire, you can keep it.

Sex and violence - well, love and heated debate anyway - bulk large in the life of Greg Gutfeld, the truculent, weightlifting, American editor of British Maxim magazine. Very soon after his arrival on these shores in June, he was whisked to Portugal for a worldwide convocation of Maxim journalists. A grisly prospect, made bearable only by the presence of gorgeous, pouting Elena Mussa, the pictures editor of Russian Maxim. After six months of pan-European courtship by former delinquent Gutfeld, the couple were married in New York last weekend. How sweet. Less sweet is the torrent of anti-American hostility Gutfeld has encountered since he came over. An enthusiastic defender of American foreign policy and especially its fondness for pre-emptive invasions, he finds himself in constant argument with anyone who doesn't support President Bush. The last straw was when The New York Times sent their media writer, David Carr, over to London to interview The Gutman. The editor was put out when his staff began a heated debate about Iraq in front of the visiting scribe; then shocked when Carr began agreeing with Gutfield's British tormentors.

Matthew Norman is away

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