Matthew Freud and Piers Morgan have discovered that being media proprietors can be a lot less fun than it looks. Not much more than a year after acquiring Press Gazette, the trade magazine for journalists, they are trying to find a buyer for their loss-making title. This won't be easy.
They have certainly succeeded in making Press Gazette livelier, but they can't make it profitable. Sales are about 5,000 copies a week. They hoped to attract high-rolling advertisers on the basis that their magazine is read by media-owners, editors and a few fat-cat journalists, but in the present climate they have been unable to do so.
Perhaps their biggest problem is that the British Press Awards, which are sponsored by Press Gazette, have not been the cash cow they expected. Both Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Mail titles and of the London Evening Standard, and the Telegraph Group boycotted this year's awards on account of their general tackiness.
Mr Morgan, a former Daily Mirror editor who has sometimes sailed perilously close to the wind, does not inspire confidence in every breast. There have also been widespread suspicions of Mr Freud, partly because he is seen by some as a slick PR man pushing his own showbiz clients, and partly because he is the son-in-law of Rupert Murdoch, the proprietor of The Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World. Somewhat ironically, Rebekah Wade, the editor of The Sun, a newspaper that has been very close to Mr Freud, recently cancelled multiple subscriptions of the magazine after it suggested that relations between her and her deputy were not as warm as they might be.
Now Press Gazette has been driven to suggesting, on the front page of its current issue, that the newspaper industry should collectively buy and fund the magazine. I am afraid I do not think this would be a terribly good idea. You might as well ask a collection of mafia mobsters to produce their own in-house publication. We would be told that crime was down, that the streets were sparkling clean, and that no one was ever asked to pay protection money. Newspapers owners are hardly likely to encourage a magazine to be properly critical of their industry.
Press Gazette has long had a rather heterogeneous constituency comprising regional and national newspaper journalists, who often do not share the same preoccupations. It has also had half a foot in the world of television journalism. At the best of times the magazine has found it difficult to keep all its readers happy. The growth of newspaper media pages in recent years, and perhaps more especially of the online Media Guardian with its instant and comprehensive media news service, have combined to make Press Gazette seem increasingly marginal.
So what is left? It is just possible to imagine a weekly magazine about the media, aimed at the curious general reader as well as journalists, which set out to invigilate the press, and draw back the veil on its fascinating workings, most of which go unreported, and unremarked upon, as things stand.
Save in a sporadic way, the magazine barely fulfils this role, and it would doubtless do so even less were it acquired by the newspaper industry itself.
I don't know whether another buyer can be found. Michael Heseltine's Haymarket group was thought to be interested at the time that Messrs Freud and Morgan bought the title, but its ardour may have cooled. I suppose that if economies were made, and if Associated Newspapers and the Telegraph Group could be persuaded to sign up again to the potentially lucrative British Press Awards, Press Gazette could be made into some sort of going concern. But where is the publisher who will make it exciting and indispensable?
* LINDA FRITZINGER has written an enthralling book about Valentine Chirol, the foreign editor of The Times from 1896 until 1911. Chirol, an ardent imperialist, foresaw German military ambitions. He feared for the British Empire, and worried about India's future. According to Chirol, "The Times moulds today and shapes tomorrow".
Most of us had not heard of this distinguished man, who regarded the chief virtues of journalism as "soundness, accuracy and discretion". And yet there he was, less than a hundred years ago, writing influential articles for The Times. Who can even name today's foreign editor of the newspaper? Another oddity is that, although we are repeatedly told we live in a global village, foreign news is taken much less seriously by the entire press than it used to be.
A humble word of advice for Mr Cohen
Spare a thought for Shimon Cohen. He is a "reputation management specialist" who has been taken on by Heather Mills McCartney, as she battles for her share of Paul McCartney's fortune. Mr Cohen will be working in tandem with Phil Hall, the former editor of the News of the World, who has been handling Heather's PR. Mr Cohen's office boasts that he has shored up the reputations of "chairmen, CEOs and a number of high-profile sports and media personalities".
He will have his work cut out with Heather. Normally when the newspapers hate a person, there is someone who will speak up for him or her, even if only out of a kind of perversity. But almost everyone seems to have it in for Heather, who has not exactly expanded her fan club by suing the Daily Mail, the London Evening Standard and The Sun. The Sun and the Mail are the two best-selling daily newspapers in Britain, and she is at odds with both of them.
Last week The Sun was particularly beastly. It asked Heather to "tick the boxes" on a series of claims the newspaper has made about the former model. The paper listed six allegations about her, with a blank box beside each one. The words beside the boxes read: "Hooker, Liar, Porn Star, Fantasist, Trouble Maker, Shoplifter".
May I offer Shimon a humble word of advice? Do nothing. Say nothing. Instruct Heather to lie low. Withdraw those writs. The hatred which some newspapers have conceived for Heather Mills McCartney is so enormous it can never be mediated.
All she and Shimon can hope for is that some people will eventually feel sorry for her, as they watch the newspapers kick her to death. Dignity can be her only response. And then, if it transpires that Paul McCartney did mistreat her in some way, the nation may end up feeling she was hard done by. But only if she says nothing, and Shimon briefs nobody.