The full force of the changes in Rupert Murdoch's media empire begins to sink in. He certainly hasn't smoothed the path for his son James, who has been given the eastern portion of the empire, including Britain.
For all the talk about new media, newspapers contribute most of the profits of News International, Murdoch's British operation. James Murdoch knows about "media platforms", but not about newspapers. And yet he finds himself running the largest national newspaper group in Britain and one with a few problems.
In these circumstances, he needs sound advice. Les Hinton, chief executive of News International for the past 12 years, could provide it, but Murdoch senior is whipping him away to New York to help with his new acquisition, The Wall Street Journal. James Murdoch may be compared to a mountaineer who is asked to mount an expedition up the unfamiliar Orinoco, and deprived of his expert guide at the last moment.
This does not seem a very fatherly act. Where will Murdoch junior find a replacement for Mr Hinton? There are several candidates within News International, each of whom will assure him that he or she has all the answers. The truth is that none of them has a tenth of Mr Hinton's experience and knowledge, and some will be pushing private agendas. Whom should young James Murdoch believe and trust?
In a spirit of open-heartedness, I am happy to offer myself as a temporary guide, on this and future occasions. Though my advice may possibly be wrong, it does have the advantage of being free.
Let us skip over the News of the World for reasons of space, and grasp The Sun, which accounts for the greater part of News International's profits. Here my worry is that its editor, Rebekah Wade, should have reportedly fancied herself as editor of The Times, and that she may be sulking in her tent as a result of not getting the job. The Sun is only kept above a sale of three million copies a day by ingenious marketing, and it would be reassuring to know that she is up for what will be a difficult ride.
As for The Times, I wonder whether its new identity has been settled. Have all thoughts of overhauling The Daily Telegraph been abandoned? That paper looks more vulnerable than it did when the strategy was first devised. Some of the Times columnists look a bit tired, but we'll leave that for another day. Who on earth wrote that clunkingly pretentious second leader last Wednesday? Oh, and beware of the advice of ex-editors of the paper.
We must leave aside The Sunday Times, with the thought that it is not as fresh as once it was, and concentrate on thelondonpaper, News International's loss-making afternoon freesheet in the capital. Surely the time has come for talks about merging it with Associated Newspaper's London Lite. I would be perfectly happy if both giveaways disappeared, but I can see there may be room for one afternoon freesheet that could be profitable. Neither side will capitulate, so rather than throw good money after bad, why not make two titles into one, and help clean up the streets of London?
These are only my preliminary thoughts.
It's the way you write 'em
The Mail on Sunday is now dispensing with Jaci Stephen's television column. The reasoning is that in this multi-channel age, we watch so many different programmes that it makes no sense to write about two or three of them.
One can see the point, but I wonder whether it is true. People still go on about some programmes for example, Cranford or Big Brother or Strictly Come Dancing and will surely want to know what their favourite critic thinks about them.
There is another defence which is that a good critic can amuse and divert in writing about almost anything. I often enjoy reviews about books that I have no intention of reading, and film or television reviews about films and programmes that I have not seen.
As they say, it is all in the writing, and our living in a multi-channel world is really beside the point.
Harsh words for how the mighty fall
Imagine if a former general or headmaster were caught with his hand in the till, as has happened to Conrad Black. In reporting that their old leader had been found out, the institutions he had served would strive to remain loyal, and point out his achievements.
Newspapers are different. Last week, The Daily Telegraph gave more coverage than any other title to the six-and-a-half year prison sentence handed out to Lord Black, its proprietor until three-and-a-half years ago. The front page and two inside pages were largely cleared. There was even a rather tasteless piece speculating that Lord Black's wife, Barbara Amiel, who used to be a columnist on the paper, might now seek pastures new.
Some will admire the Telegraph for its no-nonsense approach, and congratulate the paper for being so open and upfront. I take a rather different view. Of course, the paper had to report the story in such a way as to avoid the accusation that it was underplaying it, but there was no need for it to appear almost exultant.
Lord Black was proprietor of The Daily Telegraph for 18 years, and turned it around financially. Most people who worked for him during that period will say that he did a good job. He did not often misuse his power, inside or outside the paper. He may have been quite pleased with himself, but so are most very rich men, and there was nothing mean-spirited about him. Most important of all, the paper he oversaw was, in most respects, superior to the one that now seems to take delight in his predicament.
Even accepting that newspapers have almost no sense of institutional loyalty towards previous regimes, The Daily Telegraph was harsh. How much more creditable to have shown a little humanity in respect of its fallen proprietor.Reuse content