Media: After the Mirror, a window of opportunity: Just over a year ago Richard Stott was sacked from the Mirror. Now at Today, he has landed the title Editor of the Year. He told Maggie Brown how he gave the paper direction

A bright and breezy Monday morning on the fifth floor of a Wapping tower block, and Today newspaper is cracking ahead with its editorial conference in a business-like manner.

The list of stories presented by its news editor, Fiona Wyton, is compact but the tone is serious: here is a paper striving to be radical, popular, and not sleazy.

Honda's decision to end its partnership with Rover is listed third in importance (and merits most discussion), after Torvill and Dean's bid for gold and the vote on the homosexual age of consent.

A small inner group of four (all ex-Daily Mirror) then moves on to discuss leading articles, written by Alastair Campbell, assistant editor, political columnist and Labour sympathiser.

Smart and able, he is clearly the golden boy of the paper's editor, Richard Stott: he puts his feet up on the editor's desk, knocks over his anglepoise lamp and lets Stott put it right for himself.

Stott swiftly singles out Honda's decision to end its partnership with Rover as the correct subject for its main leader, at least for the first editions: 'What a sorry tale, this will mean cuts in Rover jobs in the end, there will be a huge outcry here, but it won't matter in Germany.'

The one bit of tabloid fun, as they search for an amusing one-sentence third leader (a Today trademark) comes from a Royal Bank of Scotland decision to give transvestites a second photo-card. 'Do you get pounds 50 out on each one?' asks Stott. 'Or pounds 25, because it is Scotland?'

Stott is in ebullient mood. Last Friday, exactly one year after joining Today, he was named as Editor of the Year in the annual What the Papers Say awards in a televised lunch at the Savoy Hotel.

The judges acknowledged that 1993 was the year the eight-year-old tabloid had finally 'found its voice', after its surprisingly poor launch by Eddy Shah and a lengthy settling-down period in the late Eighties when it seemed that Murdoch's golden touch had failed him. 'The problem with Today was that nobody could say what it stood for. All newspapers need passion, character, belief,' says Stott.

The award was an especially sweet moment for Stott, an example of how to get even. He was summoned to Claridges on a grey Sunday morning in November 1992 to be sacked as editor of the Daily Mirror by its newly installed chief executive, David Montgomery, himself a former editor of Today.

Stott's dismissal, shortly after Montgomery had pledged that the editors would remain in place, heralded the start of a controversial clear-out at Mirror Group Newspapers, which seriously rattled the Labour Party but pleased the City - the share price soared.

Within a month of Stott's ousting, News International's then chairman, Andrew Knight, opened discussions about his taking over the Today editorship. In January 1993 Stott flew to New York for a two-hour meeting with Murdoch, to finalise the deal. After eight years of working with Robert Maxwell, he switched sides.

Stott, now 50, with 10 years of editing the Mirror (twice) and the People to his name, says it was obvious what needed to be done to Today and that Murdoch had already arrived at the same conclusion. The youngest and greenest of the tabloids had to be something other than right of centre, to contrast with the Sun and Daily Mail, 'otherwise you're crunched in a concrete sandwich', says Stott.

'Under its former editor, David Montgomery, it didn't know whether it was green or yuppie - and the two are not the same thing - and whether to go for the latest trendy thing.' But he concedes that Martin Dunn did an excellent job in pulling the paper into shape before his arrival.

Murdoch and Stott agreed that the paper needed a radical character. Stott sketches in the changes he promised to deliver: Today was to be 'aggressive, iconoclastic, more news-oriented than it was, sharper defined, and anti-government, with very strong columnists, to make a mainstream newspaper out of a fringe newspaper'.

This recipe seems surprisingly similar to the mix he created at the Mirror. In fact, he was able to attract many of its disaffected staff, headed by Anne Robinson, the sparky columnist who presents Points of View on BBC 1. You could see Today as the Daily Mirror in exile, except that the Mirror remains a Labour paper, while Today came out for the Conservatives at the last general election. So will Murdoch really let Today support Labour when it comes to the crunch?

Stott says, 'Wait and see', but insists he has no prior agreement with Murdoch about what line will emerge. He explains that Today is not a Labour supporter since 'our view is that Labour still has to prove itself, has still got to communicate with the man in the saloon bar'.

On this day he is clearly irritated by an article in the Guardian, which says that he airbrushed his friendship with Robert Maxwell out of existence once it became clear what a crook he was: 'I wouldn't have said I was particularly friendly with him. It is not in my nature to be close to the proprietor. If none of the pension scandal had happened, he would have been seen as a successful proprietor. When you find out months later what happened, you change your views.'

He was responsible for pushing coverage of Maxwell glorification stories out of the news pages as far as possible, and says he would send Joe Haines, a trusted Maxwell confidant, to deal with him. 'If Maxwell wanted a loony leader which we couldn't run, I'd get Joe to talk him out of it. I would not have run the Maxwell biography (the official version, written by Joe Haines, was designed to compete with Tom Bower's) but that was a fait accompli.'

As for Today's content, Stott seems to keep a sharp grip on what makes people read. Tina Weaver, a staffer, is tipped to be named reporter of the year in Friday's UK Press Gazette national press awards for her coverage of the Michael Jackson story. The potential scandal was spotted early by Today, which sent her out to Hollywood and went on to break the story that one of Jackson's chief accusers would be paid off.

The paper is currently taking a tough line on the banks following the story that a customer was allegedly hounded to death over pounds 72. 'They spend millions on their image, but they're largely a bunch of spivs out for a quick buck,' snorts Stott.

There have been recent exclusives alleging drug dealing in the toilets at McDonalds, and testimonies of what it is like trying to manage one of the burger branches. But did the paper need to run a series of features about how a high-class London hooker earned pounds 5,000 a week, largely from Arab customers, courting the charge that it glorified prostitution? 'It's a jolly interesting story. Why be so politically correct? Newspapers are there to tell people what is going on in an interesting and accurate way,' says Stott.

He says there is no such thing as a tabloid news agenda, just good, readable stories, pertinent to people's lives: 'Stories about the Royal Family have peaked, interest in the Royal Family will reduce.'

Stott produces a magnum of champagne to share with his staff to celebrate the award. Just at that moment Rupert Murdoch phones from the Far East, where satellite television is absorbing his attention. He offers his congratulations. But Stott, who knows all the pitfalls of being a national newspaper editor, must recall that an earlier Murdoch editor, Harold Evans of the Times, won the same award - and was fired within a month.

THE STORY OF 'TODAY'

MARCH 1986: launched by Eddy Shah as the first full-colour national daily newspaper, edited by Brian MacArthur. Initial circulation of 500,000 soon declines.

JUNE 1986: 'Tiny' Rowland, of Lonrho, takes majority shareholding for pounds 24m.

DECEMBER 1986: MacArthur leaves, replaced by Dennis Hackett.

JUNE 1987: circulation down to 300,000. Rupert Murdoch buys for pounds 38m. David Montgomery, from the News of the World, becomes editor and managing director. Circulation begins to climb as Montgomery targets the paper at yuppies and environmentalists.

1990: circulation reaches 600,000, then falls back.

MARCH 1991: with sales down to 500,000, Montgomery decides on a relaunch modelled on Hello] magazine. It fails, partly because of technical difficulties as production is moved to Wapping. Murdoch replaces Montgomery with Martin Dunn. Circulation continues to decline for a while, then picks up.

FEBRUARY 1993: Richard Stott becomes editor with circulation at 510,000.

FEBRUARY 1994: circulation 580,000. Stott is named Editor of the Year by Granada TV's What the Papers Say.

(Photograph omitted)

News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Life and Style
fashionThe Secret Angels all take home huge sums - but who earns the most?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Account Director / AD

£Competitive + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Director with a ba...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?