Deputy Editors are often not especially important figures. They fill in when editors are on holiday, and otherwise do the boring jobs which their bosses don't want to do. They are acutely conscious that the paper they are allowed to edit for a few weeks a year is not their own.
Alistair Sinclair, who last week announced his resignation after 11 years as deputy editor of the Daily Mail, hardly fits this mould. I doubt there is a more influential deputy editor in the whole of Fleet Street. Paul Dacre, editor of the Mail, has many responsibilities. He is a main board director of Daily Mail and General Trust, and has been a key figure in the Press Complaints Commission. He lobbies on behalf of the Press, and takes on outside roles, the most recent one being his chairmanship of a committee examining the 30-year rule. During his absences, and when he is editing the paper, he has been able to depend on a shrewd, confident, assiduous deputy who has enjoyed a latitude which people in his position seldom possess.
That is what makes his departure so significant, and has sent Kremlinologists inside and outside the Mail into overdrive. (As a columnist on the paper I may have insights into what is going on, but no privileged information.) The announcement of Mr Sinclair's retirement was greeted with astonishment. He is on top of his game, and most observers would have said he was the most likely successor to Mr Dacre, perhaps taking the job for 18 months or two years before handing over to a younger person. Such was my prediction when I last wrote about the issue 18 months ago. The man most likely to be the next editor of the Daily Mail has removed himself from contention.
His departure after 35 years on the paper implies that a succession which does not include him has been agreed. He would not have gone if he were being lined up to serve a term as editor. This thought leads to another one. So important has been Mr Dacre's reliance on Mr Sinclair that he would hardly wish to continue very long as editor without his accomplished deputy at his side. One can look at it another way. Being naturally loyal, Mr Sinclair would not have felt able to leave if Mr Dacre still needed him.
His departure is therefore being interpreted as evidence that, after 17 years as editor, Mr Dacre, who celebrated his 60th birthday last autumn, may soon ascend to a higher floor where he will play some sort of supervisory role, having passed the editorship of the Mail to a younger man. Of course, we can't know whether this transition will take place in three or six months or a year, but the probability that it will happen sooner rather than later has increased. It seems the next editor of the Daily Mail has at last been identified by Lord Rothermere, the paper's proprietor, and accepted by Mr Dacre.
Who might this be? It is almost inconceivable that the newspaper's owner would look outside. There are really only two possibilities now that Mr Sinclair has been ruled out and Veronica Wadley, who was editor of the London Evening Standard until its recent sale, has left the Mail group. (I am assuming that Peter Wright, editor of the Mail on Sunday, is too old at nearly 56.) One candidate, generally considered the favourite, is Jon Steafel, at present styled a deputy editor, and recognised as a news supremo. The other is Martin Clarke, in charge of Mail Online, where he is considered to have performed well. Both men remain surprisingly enigmatic to their colleagues, and it is not easy to predict how a Daily Mail edited by either of them would turn out. A change, though, is on its way.
These papers need someone to think about their future
Independent News and Media (IN&M), the Irish-based owner of this newspaper, revealed last Thursday that it cannot raise new debt to fund a 200 million euro 5.75 per cent bond maturing on 18 May. A compromise may still be achievable, but IN&M chillingly conceded that there is "a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt on the group's and company's ability to continue as a going concern".
The Independent and its Sunday sister form only part of IN&M's worries. Like all media companies, it has been badly hit by the advertising crash, and has suffered particularly in its home market of Ireland, where the economy has dived. Whether or not IN&M survives in its present form, this newspaper may find itself under new ownership, though I would be personally delighted if a way can be found to retain the status quo.
Here I have no privileged knowledge, and can only repeat what I read, which is that sort of link-up may be achieved with Alexander Lebedev, the new owner of the London Evening Standard. There may be other possibilities. The paper will reduce its costs significantly as a result of moving into the offices of Associated Newspapers and sharing some services, though many of these savings will have been cancelled out by the slump in advertising revenue. However, that slump should not last for ever. The painful savings that have been recently achieved by management should constitute a permanent benefit.
During these upheavals senior management battling with financial problems should not lose sight of the editorial welfare of both Independent titles. I realise this is easier said than done. Nonetheless, the recent circulation losses of both papers have been somewhat greater than one would expect even in this appalling market.
I trust that someone is thinking about the future of these papers beyond the present financial turmoil.
Bandying about pig flu death stats is borderline lunacy
One hesitates to say that the media are exaggerating the perils of swine 'flu because we may all be stricken next week. However, the freesheet London Lite was surely guilty of alarmism last week.
On Thursday its front page carried the headline "Pig flu 'may kill 94,000 Londoners'." Below, in smaller type, readers were informed that "Ealing and Barnett to be worst hit". According to the story, 4,235 people may die in Ealing, while the smallest overall possible death toll in London as a whole will be 7,500.
Isn't this absurd? Experts disagree about the possible number of deaths. Whatever happens, it doesn't make sense to pick out two London boroughs as likely to be the worst affected, or to bandy about precise figures as though they are set in stone when they are an extrapolation of one forecast among many. To put a specific figure in a front page headline, even if it is qualified by being in inverted commas, borders on lunacy. You never know: some poor sap somewhere may take seriously what he reads on the front of London Lite.