Stephen Glover on The Press

Who is really commander of the Daily Telegraph's editorial ship?
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The Independent Online

More information has come my way regarding the departure of Neil Collins, who was the City editor of the Daily Telegraph for 19 years. Though he is considered by some to be abrasive, even his most steadfast critic would have to concede that he is a man of great rectitude (not all City editors are), and that he has had a distinguished innings. Why then did he go? He is not Mr Newland's greatest admirer; and he opposed the decision to move the Telegraph's City office into the newspaper's main premises at Canary Wharf. But there is more to his departure than that.

His replacement is Will Lewis, who comes from the Sunday Times, and previously hailed from the Financial Times. He is widely described by the press as a 'golden boy'. This suggests that he attends assiduously to his own PR, these days an indispensable requirement for any ambitious newspaper executive. Like some other financial journalists, Mr Lewis admires very rich men. Perhaps this explains the ringing endorsement that Philip Green, the retailing billionaire, gave to the Barclay brothers. He said that Mr Lewis celebrated new money. Mr MacLennan was apprised of his virtues, and it was not long before Mr Lewis was installed, preferred even over Robert Peston, who as City editor of the Sunday Telegraph was thought by many to be Mr Collins's natural successor. Mr Newland wanted Mr Collins to go but he seems to have had little say in the appointment of Mr Lewis as his replacement.

Well, the Barclays own the Telegraph Group and Mr MacLennan is its chief executive, and many will say that they can do whatever they like. The question is whether between them they know what is really in the best interests of the Daily Telegraph. Mr MacLennan is undoubtedly a competent chief executive but, at his previous job as managing director of Associated Newspapers, which owns the Mail titles and the Evening Standard, he was not let within a million miles of any editorial decision. He is an expert on presses. Now he has a new editorial train set laid out over his office floor, and he is having a fine old time shunting strange engines around as he sets about reorganising his exciting new toy.

Bent over the unfamiliar track with him is the figure of Lawrence Sear. Mr Sear was, until the end of last year, the managing editor of the Daily Mail, a largely administrative function, which he discharged with admirable efficiency. He left for a well-earned retirement in Italy but somehow he was intercepted on the way by his former colleague, Murdoch MacLennan, and installed at the Telegraph, at first for six months, and now, it would seem, for the duration.

Whether Mr Sear is any more qualified to play with Mr MacLennan's sparkling new train set may be doubted. However, he is probably behind a move to fill the deputy editorship of the Daily Telegraph, a post that has been vacant for several months, since he knows the candidate much better than does Mr MacLennan.

Constitutionally it is perfectly in order for Mr MacLennan, advised by Mr Sear, to have a say in this appointment. Editors should not be allowed to choose whomever they like as deputies without consulting the management. But Mr Newland should have the major say. He is unlikely to have alighted on Jon Steafel, a senior executive at the Daily Mail, whom Mr MacLennan would like to lure to the Daily Telegraph. The reason is that Mr Steafel's gifts are too similar - some would say superior - to his own. I know Mr Steafel a little, as I write a column for the Mail, and he is an outstanding news man, with a rare gift for analysing and synthesising complicated stories. I have no idea whether Mr Steafel wishes to join the Telegraph, but I should be very surprised if someone who has a bright future at the Mail would accept a mere deputy editorship in Mr MacLennan's regime. My guess is that he would only sign up if he were given a cast iron assurance that sooner or later he would be appointed the editor of the Daily Telegraph.

The moral of this tale is twofold. One is that Mr Newland is not in complete command of his editorial ship. The other is that Mr MacLennan is behaving as though custom and practice give him every right to exercise editorial judgement. They don't. The pursuit of Mr Steafel may be shrewd, and Mr Lewis's appointment is unlikely to be a disaster, but I very much doubt that Mr MacLennan has the knowledge or the experience to direct the editorial fortunes of the Daily Telegraph.

MEANWHILE THERE have been some startling developments in the saga of Conrad Black, whose downfall as the proprietor of the Telegraph Group led to its acquisition by the Barclay brothers, and the appointment of Mr MacLennan.

Lord Black's long time business partner, David Radler, has been indicted on US criminal charges alleging fraud. At the same time, he has agreed to co-operate with prosecutors, who are looking into the fraudulent activities of Hollinger International, of which Lord Black was the chairman. Mr Radler will presumably receive a lighter sentence if convicted.

The odds must be that he will sing like a canary. Lord Black would seem to be in great peril.

Blair plays peekaboo on his holidays

A couple of weeks ago I complained about the secrecy surrounding Tony Blair's summer holiday. Where was he? Why weren't we allowed to know? Downing Street had written to news organisations strongly requesting that his whereabouts were not revealed out of security considerations.

Yet last week Mr Blair blew his own cover after he turned up at a VJ-Day celebration in Barbados. He had been spending his summer break at Sir Cliff Richard's villa on the island, where he also went last year. Having persuaded the media to remain silent, he cheerfully popped up as though he had nothing to fear.

His earlier injunction was annoying enough, and the media were perhaps too docile in going along with it. But the way in which Mr Blair ignored his own news black-out was equally annoying - the mirror image of the same vanity.

When it suited him we could not know where he was, and when it suited him we could. The lesson I draw from this is that in future the media should look more carefully when similar requests emanate from Downing Street. My bet is that next time the press will not be quite so acquiescent.