My Mentor: Matthew d'Ancona On Peter Stothard

'He saw no conflict in being aggressively commercial and ambitiously intellectual'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

When Peter arrived as editor of The Times in 1992 I was the education correspondent. I remember thinking that he was ambitious for the paper and the staff, and he was very friendly. I enjoyed his company and I found him very stimulating to talk to. He seemed to join the dots in journalism - he was very well read and quite intellectual, but not in an ivory tower. He saw no conflict in being aggressively commercial and ambitiously intellectual, which I found an inspiring combination.

One of the first things he said was that newspapers were overpriced, which at the time was regarded as ridiculous, but he decided to launch the price war. This was regarded around Fleet Street as heresy and career-ending folly and the battle was monumentally controversial.

Being there as a young journalist and close to him was a huge privilege. He gave me the title of special writer and then assistant editor, under which rubric I did lots of things, from writing op eds to leaders to working closely with specialist writers.

I was lucky that Peter came along in my career when he did. The first thing I learnt from him was how close the links between politics and journalism are and how important newspapers are to the texture and content of political life. He quickly formed a low opinion of John Major and I remember him publishing some very coruscating leaders. One ended, "He looks weak. He is weak."

Another thing he taught me was to stay in touch with the friends that you make at university and in the immediate aftermath, because before you know it they're all in senior positions. About that time, I met David Cameron.

He also said that it's very important to be open about your ambitions, because editors aren't psychic. No one wants someone who is incredibly pushy, but it is good for people in positions of authority to know what those who work for them would like to do one day.

I've been editor of The Spectator for a little over two months and there are still things he taught me that I find useful now, like how important it is to set aside time to think and read and to meet people you wouldn't otherwise meet. And to keep up with the writing.

His stewardship of The Times transformed the marketplace and he'll be remembered as one its great editors, no question.

Matthew d'Ancona is the editor of The Spectator. Peter Stothard is the editor of the Times Literary Supplement

Comments