Crystal-ball-gazing is a tiresome pursuit. We pundits nearly always get things wrong. I am not, therefore, going to predict what will happen this year. Let me instead offer a tour d'horizon of individual titles without any pretence that I have the faintest idea of what is really going to happen.
I'll start with Rupert Murdoch's News International. The Sun and the News of the World will presumably go on losing circulation, as all red-top tabloids are doing, though I don't suppose The Sun will slip below a daily sale of three million copies this year. The Times will continue to mislay mystifyingly large sums of money. I would not be astonished if John Witherow, who has been the editor of the slightly flagging Sunday Times since 1995, were moved on this year, though it could equally well be next.
Let us not forget that Mr Murdoch will be 76 in 2007. He is so powerful that it never seems to occur to people that, like everyone else, he must grow old and die. Even now 76 is quite an age, though his mother's longevity (she will be 98 next month) might be cause for optimism. There is no reason to believe that Mr Murdoch's sprawling and oddly constructed media empire will hang together after his demise.
On that happy note, I shall turn to Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Mail titles and the London Evening Standard. The rather dispiriting London freesheet war with Mr Murdoch will persist, and I continue to believe that the Evening Standard should re-engineer itself more boldly as the London quality paper it now claims to be. The Daily Mail's longer-term challenge is to identify a successor to Paul Dacre, who will be 59 later this year, though there are no indications that he is planning to throw in the towel. Even the Mail's enemies would concede that the paper has been fortunate to have David English (editor from 1971 to 1992) and Mr Dacre (editor since 1992). Will a hat-trick be possible?
The Financial Times has become marginally profitable again after several years of losses. Many observers still assume that Pearson will sell the title when its chief executive, Marjorie Scardino, retires, which might be this year. Her likely successor is Rona Fairhead, the current chief executive of the FT. I suppose Pearson may hang on to the paper if Ms Fairhead makes it seriously profitable again.
The other title whose sale has long been predicted is the Daily Mirror. Its owner, Trinity Mirror, recently announced that the title was not for sale, but one wonders how long this position can be maintained if it continues to lose circulation. Some terrific shake-up involving the Mirror and its sister papers lies ahead, but may happen next year rather than this.
After a tumultuous year, things will probably quieten down at the multi-media Daily and Sunday Telegraph. Their editor-in-chief, John Bryant, is leaving after a short reign, now that the company has no further need of him. For me, most of the multi-media stuff is beside the point. The real question is whether the new editor, Will Lewis, who is a defiantly un-Telegraph sort of person, will succeed in getting on the same wavelength as his readers. Newspapers that neglect their core readership in favour an imagined one always go wrong.
This brings me to the Daily and Sunday Express, about which I have little useful to say. Richard Desmond manages to maintain their profitability by continuing to cut costs, but this is a process that cannot go on for ever. The papers won't face any great crisis this year.
Though The Independent loses a significant amount of money, it should continue to prosper under the ownership of Tony O'Reilly. Like all titles in its market, it will have to fight for circulation. I must just say what a feisty paper The Independent on Sunday has become, a testimony to what can be achieved on a tight budget.
The loss-making Observer is also impressive - full of energy, though somewhat removed from its high-minded, David Astor, liberal roots. Its daily sister, The Guardian, is now also losing money, and its sales are probably under greater pressure. Will this be the year when Alan Rusbridger, the paper's editor since 1995, hands over to one of the ambitious Young Turks jockeying in the wings? Both titles are utterly secure because they are bankrolled by the highly profitable Trader Media titles.
Most commentators who write about newspapers forever bang on about declining sales and financial losses and the rise of the internet. Only a fool would deny that there are problems, and I am sure there will have to be adjustments. But looking ahead I can't see any imminent crashes. And who would deny that, despite everything, we still have a pretty formidable national Press?
Never speak ill of the dead? Not if the subject's Duke Hussey
Last Thursday The Guardian ran an obituary of Marmaduke Hussey by Dan van der Vat that was stunningly vituperative and unpleasant. I have no brief for Lord Hussey, whom I never met, and I am prepared to believe that he may have been an indifferent newspaper manager and a less than brilliant chairman of the BBC. But surely one should try to be fair in writing of the recently dead.
The theme of the piece was that Lord Hussey was both nasty and a nincompoop. He was, according to Mr van der Vat, who admits to having known him, "secretive, sly and smug". These are harsh words to write about anyone. As he evidently has such strong feelings on the matter, the author would have been braver to have given vent to them while Lord Hussey was alive. It is a cowardly thing to kick a man when he cannot answer back. As for the imputation of mental idiocy, I find it difficult to believe that Lord Hussey can have been as stupid as the obituary makes out, and I note that Mr van der Vat, unlike the much more measured Daily Telegraph obituarist, does not mention that this halfwit took a First in modern history at Oxford.
There is also a disagreeable undertow of snobbery. Lord Hussey is criticised for having been educated at Rugby at public expense, his father having been in the colonial service. His allegedly middle-class origins are stressed, and he is ridiculed for having "turned himself into a caricature of a Wodehousian aristocrat" who married an earl's daughter.
Mr van der van Vat clearly knew Lord Hussey, and disliked him very much. He is therefore not the man to write his obituary. There is no requirement to spare the sins of a South American dictator, but Lord Hussey is not in that category. He lived a life of some distinction, and had a leg blown off at Anzio serving his country, an injury which, while it does not provoke an enormous amount of sympathy in the obituarist, caused him pain until the end of his days.
Does any of this matter? Lord Hussey is now beyond the scope of Mr van der Vat's reckless pen, but I imagine his wife and children and friends may have been offended by the gross injustice of this obituary. I should have been driven half-mad if such an article had been written about a deceased relative or friend of mine. It was a serious misjudgment on the part of the Guardian's obituaries editor to commission Dan van der Vat to write the piece, and an even more serious one to publish it.Reuse content