This is not to decry Hilton's promotion. She is widely considered to be one of the most intelligent and able editorial executives and is expected to transform the Sunday Mirror after its recent years of tackiness.
But if she were a man, given her background and reputation, it's difficult not to believe she would have landed the editorship of a daily by now.
Instead Hilton has been consigned to the 'safe', trivial world of Sunday tabloids. In what is becoming a female ghetto, four women have played musical chairs, beginning when Wendy Henry became editor of the News of the World, quickly followed by Eve Pollard at the Sunday Mirror. When Henry resigned she was succeeded by Patsy Chapman and went on to edit the People briefly. And when Pollard moved to the Sunday Express, she was followed at the Sunday Mirror by Bridget Rowe, who has since moved to edit the People.
None of these four looks likely to become a daily editor. Henry works for Fox TV in New York; Chapman recently resigned due to ill health; and both Rowe and Pollard are battling with circulation declines.
There are good candidates in waiting: Christina Appleyard and Mary Riddell are deputy editors of the Daily Mail and Today respectively. Sarah Sands, executive editor at the London Evening Standard, is also regarded as being in line for the top slot.
Among the broadsheets, Veronica Wadley has just been elevated to the deputy editorship of the Daily Telegraph but must share that position with a man. And Sue Douglas is acting deputy editor at the Sunday Times, though many, including herself, expected her to be acting editor after Andrew Neil's departure. Perhaps there is a clue to the failure of women to win the highest office in why she was overlooked.
She was told that, in spite of her drive, dedication and organising skills, she lacked political nous. Even if true, there are lots of examples of men being given editor's chairs with little or no political wisdom, let alone interest.
So have there really been no women suitable to merit daily editorships, or is there a deep-seated prejudice among proprietors, all of whom happen to be men? It is difficult not to conclude that owners of broadsheets think women lack the seriousness to edit serious papers; and that tabloid owners believe women do not have the toughness of mind to cope with the daily agenda of hard news. Stories about legendary editors centre on their ability to lunch with senior (male) politicians, work long hours, drink ferociously and swear copiously while making 'hard, difficult' decisions about very serious political issues. 5Newspaper conferences are still dominated by men talking about politics, whatever the intellect of the women executives.
To an extent, Hilton's recent career hints at the frustration of being a senior woman executive who feels blocked by men. After four years in various senior posts at Today, she became editor of the Daily Mail's Femail section three years ago. She was highly regarded, but her prospects of moving up looked doomed. So she surprised everyone by becoming associate editor of the Sun in May, which has an unparalleled record in promoting women, although not to the editor's chair.
If she is to become the first daily editor she must prove herself at the Sunday Mirror, where she started as a reporter in the Seventies. After marrying a fellow reporter, Graham Ball, she gave up full-time work for eight years while raising their three children. Perhaps it says something for the change in attitudes that Hilton was able to move smoothly and successfully back into newspapers after a period as editor of Mother magazine.
But the next hurdle for women is higher: to convince newspaper owners that they are worthy of editing quality newspapers.
TESSA HILTON, aged 43
1951 born Hertfordshire
1970-1973 Mirror Group trainee
1973-1978 Sunday Mirror reporter
1978-1985 at home bringing up three children
1984-1985 wrote Great Ormond Street Book of Baby and Child Care
1985-1987 editor, Mother magazine
1987-1991 associate editor, Today
1991-1994 Femail editor, Daily Mail
May 1994 associate editor, Sun July 1994 editor, Sunday Mirror -----------------------------------------------------------------
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