Mathew Horsman

on collegiate clashes

The price-war-battered, Murdoch-bashed newspaper industry is far from being on its back, but the pressures are brutal and the prospects for many titles bleak. No wonder, then, that so many publishers have been enticed by the prospect of cost-saving through sharing printing facilities, administrative staff and advertising departments. Murdoch himself showed the way at Wapping, and other publishers have been eager to follow suit.

The Independent, of course, is already in a collegiate arrangement. Its administration and sales support are all supplied by the Mirror Group, owners of 46 per cent of Newspaper Publishing, the Independent's parent. More recently, the mooted merger of Scottish Television and Caledonian Publishing intrigued media analysts because of the scope for cost-sharing.

But the collegiate system is incredibly difficult to establish, involving as it does newspapers from different ends of the market, big egos, and a clash of corporate cultures. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise to learn that the Telegraph Group and the Express titles have broken off their talks about joint advertising sales.

It looked so good on paper, given that the Telegraph's quality broadsheet market is so different from the Express group's mid-market and tabloid audience, and that the two newspapers already share printing facilities. And there was every likelihood that the collegiate approach could have been extended, perhaps taking in the Guardian, another newspaper with a distinct market - although there would be limits to the degree of co- operation on common advertising sales.

Creating a second force with the Telegraph, the Express titles and the Guardian would have given Murdoch something to think about, and would have put further pressure on the Mirror-Independent collegiate, currently the low-cost publisher in Fleet Street.

The negotiations had been launched by the fast-rising Stephen Grabiner, when he was managing director of the Telegraph Group. Since then, he has jumped ship to the Express, although both sides swore at the time there was no reason for the negotiations to stumble.

The industry view is that the Telegraph called a halt, fuelling speculation that its owner Conrad Black was paying back his protege for having crossed the floor. Others say the personalities of the senior sales people was to blame.

Too bad, for the idea remains a potent one. No doubt Murdoch (and the Independent and the Mirror Group too) was relieved by the Express and the Telegraph's failure of vision.

From grand strategy to minor squabbling. I wonder if everyone has enjoyed the Hugo Young-Andrew Jaspan spat as much as I? The two have been going at it in the pages of the UK Press Gazette and the New Statesman, arguing over who said (and did) what to whom at the time of Jaspan's unceremonious and involuntary departure from the editorship of the Observer earlier this year.

Hugo Young, from his Olympian heights on the board of the Scott Trust, the benevolent owners of the Guardian and (unhappily for the Trust) of the money-losing Observer, last week fired the latest broadside in the New Statesman, admitting that the Scott Trust had made some mistakes, and claiming that the "biggest of these was the appointment of Andrew Jaspan as editor". Ouch.

Oddly enough, last September, Young wrote to Jaspan in glowing terms, saying the relaunched Observer was very good indeed, adding that the paper managed to look both fresh and professional, without the rawness most redesigns.

Still, everyone is entitled to change his opinion, as Young clearly has, to judge by the New Statesman piece. He writes, pungently, that: "Through the skills and personality of the editor, their leadership and judgement, he or she has to gain the respect that people are desperately keen to repose in him. By steady degrees, alas, Jaspan lost each element of support."

Is this the same Hugo Young that only last month wrote to Jaspan, conceding that the hapless editor had done good things for the Observer and that he had really thrown his heart and soul into it? Or who agreed that Jaspan had to put up with absurd prima donnas whose continued employment with the Observer was a collective managerial fault?

No doubt Jaspan was not meant for the Observer. By the end of his tenure, it was hard to find anyone who supported him. But it must have been tough to handle a cabal of senior journalists on huge salaries, whose lunch expenses alone would have paid for some stellar freelance contributions.

Jaspan was poised this week to respond to Young's criticisms. We will leave it to them to sort the rest of this out.

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