Matthew Norman's Media Diary: How can we ease Patsy's pain?

Who would have dreamt for a moment, when the Barclay Brothers clinched the purchase of the Telegraph Group, that it would come to this? You just wouldn't have credited it ... not when you remembered how the newspaper world's Mike and Bernie Winters (with Andrew Neil as their very own Schnorbitz) had enjoyed such a splendid record in Scotland, where they contrived the win double of lowering circulations and creating barely paralleled misery among dwindling staffs.

Anyway, another week of unbridled merriment has passed in Canary Wharf, and both editors remain in place. At the daily, John Bryant continues in the caretaker role perfected at Spurs by David Pleat, wandering forlornly around the newsroom with his mop trying to clean up the messes made by his overlords.

Over at the Sunday, meanwhile, sympathy grows for Patience Wheatcroft, not least from the woebegone editor herself. One long-serving executive who was amalgamated last week (amalgamation, you will recall, is the new euphemism for what, in the Barclay Bros' early business days dahn the East End, might have been called getting the old tin tack) was summoned to Patsy's office, and invited to take a colleague as prisoner's friend, to finalise the severance package.

The two entered and sat down, and a clearly distressed Patsy went through the details. Finally, she looked up from the documents. "I wish," she muttered morosely, "that it was me." Whether this referred to the generosity of the package or was a muted cry for freedom is hard to be sure. But we might have a wild guess, and would advise anyone planning to put down the deposit on the venue for her first anniversary party to hold fire for now.

* NOT, OF course, that it isn't party time at the Telegraph, and only last week saw the works outing for the summer extravaganza. Traditionally the bash is held at Radley school, but this year it was moved to Leeds Castle on the initiative of my friend Simon Heffer, whose ambitions to edit the daily title remain undimmed. The theory that he engineered the transfer due to chippiness about not having been to a public school himself (as fans of Son of PC Gone Mad! well know, there's always been something of the crypto-anarchist about Simon) is even more fanciful than the rumour that next year's bash will be held, in the style of a Sun "away day", at Butlin's. At the current rate of amalgamations, a canoe seems more likely. Indeed, of the five buses booked to take staff and their families to Leeds Castle, they managed to fill only two.

* I AM concerned about the irresponsibility of media outlets in using poor Alastair Campbell. His occasional guest slots in The Times are wretched enough, but his Labour conference appearances on the BBC last week were truly pitiful. If you felt sorry for the man during a bruising run-in with Paxo on Newsnight, you could have wept for him during an interview with Peter Allen and Jane Garvey on Radio Five Live - one he began by suggesting that the show had invented a listener's text about Cherie Blair. The presenters dismissed the mad ranting with the clinical disdain it deserved, but you do begin to wonder whether anyone who indulges Ali in this condition is the modern equivalent of the owner of an 18th-century central European travelling freak show, charging the rubes a couple of pfennigs to watch the geek in the cage bite the head off a chicken and drink its blood from the hole in the neck.

* ELSEWHERE ON Five Live, a rousing hats off to Victoria Derbyshire for yet another thoughtful trailer for her morning phone-in. "Should prisoners be treated," she asked last Tuesday, "like human beings?" While we're all summoning the mental energy to grapple with that conundrum, let's relive my favourite of the genre - the time Victoria posed the teaser, "Should anyone ever be sacked for something done in the workplace?" So finely balanced does this one remain that she might consider running it again should Lord Stevens ever nail any football manager for accepting a bag full of treasury notes while sitting in his own office.

* IN THE Daily Mail Melanie Phillips addresses the vexing matter of the teaching of citizenship in schools. Lessons, so she reports the Oftsted inspectors as discovering, are often unsatisfactory and seldom better than adequate. "Some people, though," she sniffs, "might think this isn't worth getting worked up about." Ah yes, there are people like that, Mad Mel, and sad to say, there always will be. However, so long as you're in business, the rest of us can relax safe in the knowledge that - whatever the subject, however trivial it may seem - Melanie Phillips is getting worked up enough for us all. That's the point of you, Mad Mel, and why we adore you so much.

* IT IS one of the enduring myths about print journalists that we are bitter, carping and envious towards one another's rare successes. What cobblers this is, and I'd like today to offer to my friend and occasional opponent across the green baize Victoria Coren, winner of that huge European Poker Tour event in London last week and with it the £500,000 first prize, my most warm and heartfelt congra... My most warm and heartf... No, it won't come. Perhaps next week.

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