Newspapers are dead or dying, we are told. Why, then, is Rupert Murdoch, the most successful media proprietor in the world, investing £650m in state-of-the-art presses to print the Sunday Times, Sun, Times and News of the World?
New presses have already been installed in Liverpool and Glasgow. From next month by far the biggest plant, at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, will be fully operational with new German-made, high-speed presses that can produce colour on every page. Broxbourne will be the biggest print facility in the world. Apart from Terminal Five, it is said to have been the largest building site in the country in recent years. From 2009, News International will also print the Telegraph titles.
I suppose Mr Murdoch and his senior managers may be insane to invest so much money in traditional print. Nonetheless, it is difficult not to be buoyed by this degree of commitment. Daily Mail and General Trust has also been investing in new facilities. Unlike certain pundits, and one or two editors, the two biggest newspaper groups in Britain are confident that newspapers have a future.
There is another reason to draw comfort from these developments. News International will be selling its 14 acre site at Wapping, where in 1986 militant trade unionists tried, and failed, to prevent the company using what was then a new plant. It is looking for editorial and commercial offices in central London, and Canary Wharf does not come into that category.
The migration of the last 20 years, which took most newspapers to East London, is being reversed. The Telegraph Media Group has already relocated from Canary Wharf to Victoria. The Guardian is moving, but only up the road to King's Cross. The Mail Group has sensibly been based in Kensington since the late 1980s. With News International returning to central London, only the Mirror and Independent titles remain in Docklands.
Journalists should get out and talk to people face-to-face, and observe things themselves. This is problematic if you are stuck in an office far from the cut-and-thrust of events, peering forlornly into your screen, and communicating via telephone or email. As we welcome News International's commitment to newspapers, let's also rejoice about journalists returning to the real world.
*Aspiring journalists might like to know about a £5,000 essay prize to the student who wins the 2008 T E Utley Award. Mr Utley (always known as Peter) was for many years a leading Tory journalist and thinker (the two do not always go together) on The Daily Telegraph and, as it happens, my guide and dear friend.
The subject of the essay (which should be no more than 5,000 words) is: Will the United Kingdom still be united in 10 years' time. And should it be? The closing date is 16 May 2008, and entries should be sent by post or emailed to The Secretary, T E Utley Memorial Fund, 111 Sugden Road, London SW11 5ED. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Really Andrew, you couldn't make it up Andrew
Matthew d'Ancona, editor of The Spectator, may be interested to know that he has a new editor-in-chief. Despite his considerable editorial influence on the magazine, Andrew Neil has hitherto been styled its chief executive. In an email promoting The Spectator Boisdale lunch which took place two days ago, he has for the first time been described as 'the Editor-in-chief of The Spectator.'
The lunch, held at Boisdale restaurant in Victoria to coincide with the England versus Scotland rugby international, was evidently one of the most incredible blow-outs of all time. There were Scottish and English oysters, smoked salmon and beef from both sides of the border, rounded off with cheeses, chocolates and coffee. Guests were offered champagne, 'unlimited wines', malt whiskies and cigars.
But don't run away with the idea that Mr Neil and his mates do not have soft hearts. In the midst of this bacchanalian orgy there was an auction in aid of the charity 'Action Against Hunger.' As my Daily Mail colleague Richard Littlejohn might say, you couldn't make it up.
True or false? Too soon to say
An extraordinary story erupted in Media Guardian last Tuesday that swept down Fleet Street like a forest fire. According to the website, Roger Alton, until recently editor of The Observer, will shortly take over as editor of this newspaper, and its present editor, Simon Kelner, will assume a very senior management role.
This was virtually presented as fact, and you can imagine how Independent journalists will have been weighing up their possible fortunes under Mr Alton. Remembering the occasionally harsh things I may have written about him over the years, I was preparing to pack up my stall, and move it further down the pier.
Then Media Guardian pulled its first story, replacing it with one suggesting that Mr Alton is 'in talks' to become editor. He was quoted as saying it was 'nonsense' he had the job. We can't be sure whether he resorted to his sometimes colourful and robust language in denying the story, but we may reasonably surmise that he was somewhat aerated.
So what are we to believe? I haven't the faintest idea. It does seem rather rum to publish the first, unequivocal piece without any response from Mr Alton. This is not the first time Media Guardian has run a story about this newspaper that has been denied. It recently suggested that the Independent planned to give away free copies in city centres.
At the very least it seems Media Guardian was too fast on the draw. How far it was at fault remains to be seen. If Mr Alton emerges as editor in a few weeks, the website will then be able to say that it was ahead of the game. If he never becomes editor, or things turn out in a different way, its critics will say that it published a false story.