John Walsh's Media Diary - Media - News - The Independent

John Walsh's Media Diary

A muscular response to resigning

The gymnasia at Canary Wharf are as quiet as a fleet of Mary Celestes, now that Martin ("Arnie") Newland is no longer occupying them for marathon sessions of crunch, plank and bench-press. Rumours of the ex-Telegraph editor's weirdly small salary (£130,000) and substantial final pay-off (£750,000) are nothing to the rumours about his exercise regimen. It's said that he used to leave messages for his wife pretending to be down the pub, so that she wouldn't be worried about the strain he was putting on his heart. How interesting, though, to hear that he had already tried to resign the editorship several times in the past - all since the appointment of chief executive Murdoch MacLennan, who finally drove Newland nuts by bringing in senior staff over his head. He might have been persuaded to stay again last week but, my Canary Wharf gym-bunny tells me, "this time, he didn't have the head of human resources [Lynn Cunningham] to talk him out of it."

NO NEWS about Simon Heffer or Gerald Kaufman this week, because Matthew "Snake Eyes" Norman is currently in St Kitts in the Caribbean, playing poker. Poker is currently sweeping the cyberspace universe - you can't move in the Tube these days for online poker adverts - and many hacks are falling under its spell. Victoria Coren has been a poker diva for years; likewise Anthony Holden (whose poker manual, All In, is published this week); ditto James Hipwell, late of the Daily Mirror share-dealing scandal, and Matt Born, who writes on media for the Daily Mail. So proficient has Mr Born become at poker - he has sat in at the million-dollar-spinning Texas Hold'Em championships in Las Vegas - that soon he may win enough to be able to retire from the most virulently anti-gambling newspaper in the UK.

WHAT WITH all the backslapping and fraternisation, it was like the 1914 Christmas truce at the National Portrait Gallery last week, when Press Gazette, the organ of the inky trade, newly re-vamped by Piers Morgan, announced the newspaper Hall of Fame. The magazine has been bitching and bombinating for 40 years, and, in a brazen shy at myth-making, chose the 40 greatest hacks from these decades. About half of the 40 are dead, but those who made it to the party included Bruce Page, Ann Leslie and Hugh McIlvanney, all of whom seemed undismayed by the burden of canonisation. Rival editors gossiped about the mayhem at the Telegraph. The Sun's Rebekah Wade girlishly air-kissed everyone in sight, determined to appear more fluffy than toughie. A froideur like the arrival of the Ice King settled over the partying throng when Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail walked in (and that was before he discovered that someone had defaced his portrait photograph). Reports from Kensington suggest that Dacre is avid for a knighthood, both to emulate his predecessor, Sir David English, and catch up with his peers on the Hall of Fame judging panel, Sir Harry Evans, Sir Max Hastings and Sir Peter Stothard. Elsewhere, Posy Simmonds refused to divulge the classic novel on which her new comic strip, "Tamara Drewe", is based (though it's obviously something by Thomas Hardy). The Telegraph's ridiculously beautiful diarist, Celia Walden, confronted veteran scallywag Richard Compton-Miller, who had written scathingly of her talents, and left him expiring with l'amour. Oh, and Alexander Chancellor's dog bit the Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger. Who says journalists can't enjoy each other's company without a punch-up?

HOW DID the Press Gazette secure an interview with Rupert Murdoch - the first time he's spoken in five years - in which he spills the beans about Wapping, print unions, The Times and the enmity of the British media ("They all hate me because of Sky")? "We've been after him for two-and-a-half years, ever since I became editor," says Ian Reeves, "and we've tried all manner of hooks and ruses, to no avail." Had the fact that the magazine's chief shareholder is Matthew Freud, Murdoch's son-in-law, helped to swing it? "Matthew's connection meant we could dangle a hook slightly closer to the man himself, and finally he bit." Reeves spent a frustrating two weeks of hints and winks that the interview was going ahead, but nothing was confirmed. For a while, he was on stand-by to fly to Australia. Then silence fell - "by Friday I'd given up. The interview wasn't on the flatplan. We'd other plans for the cover. And then I was summoned. I was to phone him at 9.30am Australia time, that's 11pm our time, and I'd have half an hour. It rather ruined my evening," says Reeves, ruefully. "One of my best friends had a 40th birthday. But I thought it might be unwise to push the boat out under the circumstances..."

I SEE that veteran white-suited war correspondent-turned-political sage Martin Bell is back on the box in a Channel 4 documentary about war. Broadly speaking, he's against it. In fact, the great bomb-dodger is now the head of an organisation called the Movement for the Abolition of War. I have no quibble with Bell's idealism. I would be quite happy (as would several beauty queens) to see World Peace break out. But for a war correspondent to campaign against the thing that once provided him with a living - isn't it like a motoring correspondent campaigning against the combustion engine?

HERE'S A tip for headline writers: when you're presenting a front-page story in 64-point bold type, try and get the facts straight. As a guide, you might look at Friday's Evening Standard, where the heading ran, "Question: Who is Jackie Chan's No 1 fan? Clue: He lives at No 10." Inside was a story about Mr Chan meeting Cherie Blair, who gushed to him: "The Prime Minister is a bit of a fan." Not quite the No 1 fan, then, but that's beside the point. The point is that the Blairs, to be strictly accurate, don't live at 10 Downing Street. They've been at No 11 since 1997. And, as far as I know, Gordon Brown (currently occupying No 10) hasn't yet admitted to being a big martial arts enthusiast.

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