No smoke without firings

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The Independent Online
Journalists are good at covering other people's news (or at least they ought to be). But there is little in journalism quite so bad as an article in one newspaper about the activities of another.

The point came home this past week, as rumours swirled around the editorial floor of the Express newspapers. Media correspondents were quickly on to the story, calling their mates on the daily and the Sunday, checking with journalists at other newspapers. "Sue Douglas has quit," went one line. "Sue Douglas has been fired," whispered others. "Sue Douglas has called Sir David English [of Associated Newspapers] and asked for a job."

Then there were the stories on redundancies. Ninety jobs to go. One hundred jobs to go. All the job cuts will come in editorial. No, no - it's all sales and advertising.

How reminiscent it was of the last big clear-out at The Independent. For days before the announcement finally came, impossibly specific rumours were flying. "There will be 27 redundancies, and they will be announced at 5.30pm, outside the editor's office. "Then, when 5.30 comes and goes, the rumour changes. Suddenly, it's 35 jobs cuts, to be announced at 10am tomorrow.

It really is an impossible business. First, journalists trade in information. They can't help offering the latest gossip, heard just that afternoon from a colleague who knows someone who knows Sir David English. Second, journalists are great conspiracy theorists. When managing directors pop down from their top-floor offices to have a quick word with the managing editor, it can only mean one thing: restructuring, firings and the departure of the editor. Third, media companies are notoriously bad at communication. Personnel officers are routinely ineffectual, and internal relations are often a mess. Press relations with the outside world are, if anything, worse: no wonder journalists prefer to call their hackmates on other papers rather than the relevant press office.

For what it's worth, in the case of the Express group, there is likely to be some fire to go along with the smoke. A restructuring is on the cards, and jobs will go. How many? I don't know. When? I'm not sure. But when the details are announced, they will be close to one of the stories media correspondents were told last week. But then, we all heard so many, one of them was bound to be right.

And while we are on the navel-gazing subject of newspapers, I'd like to canvass your opinion on the increasing use of the photo-montage in major newspapers, not least The Independent. Is it all right for news stories to be accompanied by these images, clever and revelatory as they doubtless can be?

Was it all right for The Independent to run a picture of Ian Ritchie, then chief executive of Channel 5, at the launch of the channel's retuning campaign, and then to superimpose a reclining Greg Dyke in similar pose right next to him? Greg Dyke, who was nowhere near the launch, doesn't think so, and I'm inclined to think he is right. In this case, some harm may actually have been done, in that Dyke, chief executive of Pearson Television, has a bad enough time already, trying to convince the public (and the channel's other shareholders) that he is not running Channel 5, but instead is the representative of just one of its four main shareholders. Dyke had actually agreed, along with the executives of United News & Media and CLT, to leave the retuning show to Ian Ritchie.

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