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.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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
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

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little