The start of the Piers show

'Brawls, rows, all the passionate things that go on in newsrooms...' If anyone can liven up the Press Gazette, it's the new proprietor Piers Morgan. And all media sectors are about to feel the full force, he warns Ian Burrell
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The Independent Online

I wouldn't put money into the pocket of such a vile creature as Piers Morgan via the Mirror, and I ain't going to do so via the Press Gazette." So wrote one Ray Hoppkrofft of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, cancelling his subscription to the trade magazine for the British newspaper industry, recently acquired by Morgan and a consortium including the public-relations supremo Matthew Freud.

I wouldn't put money into the pocket of such a vile creature as Piers Morgan via the Mirror, and I ain't going to do so via the Press Gazette." So wrote one Ray Hoppkrofft of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, cancelling his subscription to the trade magazine for the British newspaper industry, recently acquired by Morgan and a consortium including the public-relations supremo Matthew Freud.

Morgan was delighted with the correspondence, insisting on its publication in the PG's first letters column under his proprietorship. "It's hilarious. I love that sort of stuff," he says. "I told them, 'Fine, put it in.'"

Apart from providing the former Mirror editor with amusement, such letters also help to give the impression that the Press Gazette will remain free of proprietorial interference.

This is an industry where the pen is, usually, the weapon of choice in settling scores, where hidden agendas are perceived in every sentence, and where Piers Morgan has old enemies as well as many friends.

As he sits in the fashionable St Martin's Lane hotel before lunching at the Ivy, Morgan makes it clear that what was once the UK Press Gazette is set to become the UK media gazette.

Piers won't be changing the name of his new title, but he'll certainly be giving it instructions to tread all over the toes of some of its neighbours on the newstands. "I went and bought all of them last week, Campaign, Media Week, Marketing Week, Broadcast, Retail Week. I saw lots of ideas that we can nick, shamelessly," he says. "People will think less of me if I didn't. I also saw a lot of crossover to interesting features we can do in Press Gazette."

Morgan has spent his life in newspapers, from cub reporter on the Wimbledon News to running the Bizarre column on Kelvin MacKenzie's Sun and then editing the News of the World and the Daily Mirror.

You could be forgiven for thinking he might want to switch the focus of Press Gazette (circulation 6,000) on to its core market, ditching its dalliances with other media such as magazines and broadcast. The opposite is, in fact, the case. Not only does he plan to expand coverage of those areas, he wants to write about every other aspect of the media.

"We are going to have more coverage of magazines, more coverage of PR, advertising, the internet. I want to have every single tentacle of Fleet Street covered," he says. "Every other part of the media will read Press Gazette to find out what's going on in the minds of journalists."

So don't be surprised to see Sir Martin Sorrell or Lord Bell feature alongside the likes of Paul Dacre. "I think, in terms of the basic emphasis of the magazine, it's going to be about the people that make the British media tick," Morgan says. "I'm very interested in the people, not cold statistics or hard facts - I'm interested in the people that run the big media buying companies, that run the big PR agencies. These people are as interesting to journalists as the people who run papers, and we need to be very broad-thinking in that way."

Nevertheless, he is determined that Press Gazette will relocate to the spiritual home of British newspapers, Fleet Street, and he appears to have identified premises already.

"We think it would be a rather nice touch if the industry magazine went back to a street that is synonymous with the industry but no longer has anybody working there," he says.

Morgan will attend the office "at least once a week", but it is clear that the commercial side of the operation concerns him just as much as the editorial. "Successful trade magazines are worth a lot of money," he says, adding that his commercial departments need to be "more aggressive".

He says: "The advertising is almost non-existent, and we intend to address that. We are already making inroads in the first week and I don't think we are going to find it too hard."

Sponsorship has also been identified as a key revenue stream, so expect that to be reflected in next year's awards, including the notoriously boozy British Press Awards, at which Morgan himself has been an enthusiastic participant in the past.

"The awards will go to Freud Communications and I won't have anything to do with it, which will be a blessed relief to every journalist in the country who thought that something approaching Mad Max was about to erupt," he says. "We want to restore the prestige to this event to make these awards into something that everyone wants to win."

He says there will be full consultation with the editors who threatened to withdraw their support from the British Press Awards after the raucous nature of this year's event.

Despite Morgan's obvious interest in the money-making potential of the purchase, he claims that the PG's staff are "quite pumped up" by the idea that they have been taken over by a famous journalist, or as he puts it, not "a glorified bean-counter who's come in to make a few quid". He says a strong editorial product is his priority so that circulation can be driven up by readers wanting their own copies instead of waiting to read the newsroom one.

Apart from carrying interviews in which leading media figures spill the beans, he wants a mix of "bust-ups and brawls and rows and all the things that go on in the passionate newsrooms in this country".

He says: "I've been in newsrooms where journalists have fought each other over a byline - I love all that. That's what it should be about. The best reporters in the world are not angelic little souls, they're aggressive terriers who want their names in the newspaper and want to get ahead in life and up the ladder. The Press Gazette will be very aspirational."

He hopes that the magazine will become "an academy of excellence" for young journalists who may be denied the traditional routes into national paper newsrooms. "You can't get the chance now to do shift work on the nationals in the way that you could when I was younger," he says. "We need more bodies. Come and show us what you're made of."

Money will be invested on hiring big-name columnists, he promises. "To get every newspaper editor in the country reading the columns, they have got to be by people who grab the attention because of their positions, or who they are, or how they write - people who have got serious things to say about the industry, but also people who can be entertaining or downright bloody mischievous."

In this respect, he hopes that the new Morgan-style Press Gazette will borrow from the likes of Punch and his own nemesis, Ian Hislop's Private Eye. "It will be an incredible story-breaking magazine for the industry, but secondly, we will have a lot of laughs, a lot of mischief."

Apart from taking on the long-established trade magazines that cover other areas of the media, Morgan also wants to target the suppliers of online media news, notably the MediaGuardian website.

"What I want is, within a year, everyone clicking on to Press Gazette just as much, because we are breaking more stories and have more interesting ideas. We will be very aggressive online."

He thinks he has an advantage in breaking such stories because of the Press Gazette's independence within the industry. It will be up to Morgan to demonstrate that such impartiality exists. Since he was marched out of the Mirror by company security guards in May last year, he's hardly been out of the limelight.

The publication of his memoirs, The Insider, (serialised with great fanfare by the Daily Mail) was followed by columns for the London Evening Standard and more features for the Mail, not to mention his frequent TV appearances, including hosting his own show with the former Sunday Express editor and Conservative Party communications chief Amanda Platell.

But the purchase of the newspaper industry trade magazine gives him the chance to get right in the faces of old friends and foes alike.

"A lot of my friends edit newspapers, but they're all going to be susceptible, I'm afraid, to the impartiality of the Press Gazette," he warns. "I'm sure I'm going to spend most of my time as proprietor of the Press Gazette taking furious calls from my great mates."