Donald Trelford: The qualities an editor needs to reach the top

Media Studies: All the tributes celebrated Howard as the Lost Editor – the fact that he never edited a national newspaper

It must be galling for many famous people that they are not around to read their own obituaries, though that might be a blessed relief for others. Editors of Obituary pages are in a privileged position, but rarely well enough known to make their own columns. One who did was Anthony Howard, who qualified not because he ran the obituary pages on The Times for several years, but because he was one of the most distinguished political journalists of the past half-century.

The Times was the only paper with a ready-made obit of Howard. The others caught up the next day. The Times's tribute was so warm – and clearly written by a close friend (Roy Hattersley is my uninformed guess) – that I wasn't the only person to wonder if Tony had commissioned it himself. He was so concerned about how history would perceive him – and had such a love of mischief – that I wouldn't put it past him.

All the tributes celebrated Howard as the Lost Editor – the fact that he never edited a national newspaper (the closest he got to this was being my deputy for seven years at The Observer). For all Tony's many fine qualities, both personal and professional, I'm not sure that he was really cut out for this role. A modern editor has to be an all-rounder. Tony's interests were unusually narrow.

A key factor in any journalist's career is timing. National editors are usually appointed shortly before or after their 40th birthday, having worked their way up the internal executive ladder (Peter Preston and I were 37, Harold Evans and Rees-Mogg 39, Alan Rusbridger 42, Paul Dacre 44). At that time in his life Tony Howard was editing weekly magazines, the New Statesman (at 38) and The Listener (at 45). Until he was nearly 50, he had never held an executive position on a national paper.

These were the real reasons why Tony never reached the top job, not the explanation offered in his Times obituary – "because he didn't want it enough to compromise with his principles or enough to feign admiration for people whom he despised... Had he been a worse man he might have become a great editor." On this reading, editors are not appointed because they have the requisite qualities, but because they are unprincipled creeps. It was true that I asked Tony to leave because he was trying to unseat me, but it was not true, as asserted in two of the obits, that he went to Tiny Rowland about it.

It is a pity that his sudden and untimely departure should be overshadowed in this way, for Tony Howard should be remembered for the great man he was and for the many fine things he achieved in his lifetime, not for a prize that eluded him.







Suspicions over the Telegraph exposé



Complaints are already piling up at the Press Complaints Commission about the undercover reporting by the Daily Telegraph that embarrassed Vince Cable and other Liberal Democrat MPs. The test will be whether, in lying about their identity, pretending to be constituents and using hidden tape-recorders, the reporters breached clause 10 of the editors' code of conduct. The key sentences are: "The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices ... Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge ... can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means."

The Telegraph is confident that it can pass the public interest test. If Lib Dem MPs were saying one thing in public about their coalition partners and something else in private, then it can be argued that voters were entitled to know this. Likewise with Cable: if he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch's media empire, then it was clearly inappropriate for him to have a quasi-judicial role in weighing the rights and wrongs of a BSkyB business deal.

But why, then, didn't the paper major on the Murdoch story, which leaked out through the BBC and almost led to Cable's resignation? Instead, it highlighted Cable's grandiose claim that his resignation could bring the Coalition down, which was judged to be of greater interest to its readership. It also maintains that it was spreading out its "goodies", as it did in its reporting of the MPs' expenses scandal.

The suspicion remains, however, that the Murdoch story might have been buried because the bias admitted by Cable could damage the campaign by newspaper owners, publicly supported by the Telegraph Media Group, against any further media acquisitions by News International. If so, the paper would have been trimming its news instincts to suit its owners' corporate needs.

The PCC should investigate the complaints even if there is a public interest in the revelations. One wonders, for example, how many other covert campaigns were conducted by the paper that never saw the light of day because they didn't reveal anything newsworthy. Were there "fishing trips", which are explicitly banned in the code of conduct?

One can't help wondering what the late Bill Deedes would have made of his old paper's use of undercover reporters to tape the confidential conversations of MPs in their constituencies. "Not the conduct of a gentleman" is the sort of thing he would have said. But the modern Telegraph group, with former Daily Mail men running its management and editing both its newspapers, may not care too much about that.



Donald Trelford was Editor of The Observer, 1975-93, and is Emeritus Professor of Journalism Studies at Sheffield University.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

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

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

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

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition