My Life In Media: Roger Alton

'My proudest achievement is being the subject of a question on University Challenge, and the student getting it right'
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The Independent Online

Roger Alton, 57, is editor of The Observer. Educated at Exeter College, Oxford, he has said that too much of the press "is edited by, written by and written for boring old fuckers like me - white, middle-class, middle-aged males. We need to change this and we want to change this". He has a daughter and his interests include skiing, climbing and films.

Roger Alton, 57, is editor of The Observer. Educated at Exeter College, Oxford, he has said that too much of the press "is edited by, written by and written for boring old fuckers like me - white, middle-class, middle-aged males. We need to change this and we want to change this". He has a daughter and his interests include skiing, climbing and films.

What inspired you to have a career in the media?

I produced a jokey magazine when I was at prep school and it seemed quite fun. Between school and university, in the mid-Sixties, I got a job working on The Observer. It was Swinging London time, and, of course, it all swung by without me, but it was a fabulous period to be working on a paper, even for £10 a week. It also made me realise that you could have a job and not have to get up first thing in the morning. Which was heaven.

When you were 15 years old, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

They have always had The Times, though recently my mum, who is in her eighties, got a bit pissed off with the bulk of the Saturday tabloid and switched to The Telegraph. It was all way above my head. I think I read the Mirror and the New Musical Express.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

We didn't have a telly until, I think, The Forsyte Saga. But I used to love watching Test cricket in black and white on portable TVs with a screen the size of a fag packet.

What's the first media you turn to in the morning?

Radio Five Live, and Today when it's not being folksy. Five Live is uniformly brilliant.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

All of them, really. Sky News especially (superb), Media Guardian, Teletext, all the papers, love all the varying editions of the Standard, the wires. But mine's a pretty empty life if you're not in the media.

What is the best thing about your job?

It's great fun; it is never the same; the people are brilliant; I get to swear a lot and nobody says they mind. And occasionally I get invited on skiing holidays. I am very privileged.

And the worst?

Not selling as many copies as you'd like to, and so feeling you're letting people down. Endless anxieties about screwing up other people's good stories.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Oddly, it's seeing someone buying a copy of The Observer and they are not a member of my family or visibly mad. More personally, it was being the subject of a question on University Challenge. And the student getting it right. How cool is that? Oh, and being asked by Word magazine to write about my favourite albums. Wow!

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

They are innumerable, and it would take squillions of words to go into.

At home, what do you tune in to?

On the radio, The Archers and Desert Island Discs; on TV, all sports, comedy, and there's some fantastic drama on now - Hustle and Footie Wives I like. The current 24 is the best ever and I'm hooked. Splendid TV right now.

And do you have a favourite magazine?

I'm a real magazine junkie, but in no order: Ski and Board, Climbing magazine, the Eye, The New Yorker, Grazia (junk, but nice covers), Heat, The Speccie, National Geographic Adventure Magazine, among others. I am very proud of the Observer's monthly magazines, too.

Name the one career ambition that you want to realise before you retire

To hit and hold a 500k-plus circulation. And to turn a profit and be a great newspaper.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

Be a hopeless wreck, probably. I would like to work in mountain sports, too.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Too numerous, again. We have a brilliant, vibrant media here, and there are a staggering number of outstanding creative people in it. It never ceases to amaze me how good so much of our trade is.

The CV

1969: Joins the Liverpool Post as a graduate trainee, progressing to general reporter and then deputy features editor.

1974: Begins 25 years at The Guardian, as a news sub-editor.

1976: Becomes chief sub-editor before moving to sport in 1981, where he is deputy editor.

1985: Moves to arts as editor.

1990:

Promoted to editorship of the Weekend magazine.

1993: Becomes features editor.

1996: Appointed assistant editor of the paper.

1998: Appointed editor of The Observer. He wins Editor of the Year at the 2000 What the Papers Say Awards. Known for his disarming self-deprecation and sustained expletives, he has reversed the paper's post-Guardian buy-out decline and has slowly built circulation. He is credited with raising The Observer's credibility, launching the monthly Food, Sport and Music magazines and building staff morale.

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