What goes round comes round, and what comes round is often John Bryant

On The Press
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The second news story on the Telegraph website was headlined "Fifty dead as wave of car bombs devastates Iraq." The top "news story" was "Telegraph editor steps down".

Journalists' news sense is always distorted by internal events, their capacity for uncontrolled excitement only truly exposed by office gossip. Not that this was gossip - this was fact: Martin Newland has gone.

In these situations, tears are shed, drinks are downed, and "loyal" senior executives said to be "closely identified with the ex-editor" consider their positions and decide to stay. The newspaper equivalent of the exchange of letters between the prime minister and the minister who has "stepped down" is the exchange of quotes. According to Murdoch MacLennan, the Telegraph Group chief executive who arrived from the publisher of the Daily Mail, Newland had guided the paper with distinction. Both MacLennan and the Barclay brothers, the paper's owners, had "hoped to work with him for the foreseeable future".

And Newland himself spoke of the privilege of editing the paper, and thanked the Barclays "for their kindness and good wishes". With such mutual respect, affection even, the parting seems inexplicable. Perhaps Newland's use of the word "kindness" is a reference to the terms of his departure, or cheque.

For of course all these words mean as much as a chairman's vote of confidence in a football manager. And "the foreseeable future" could be measured in days once MacLennan had appointed John Bryant as editor-in-chief of both the daily and Sunday titles.

When I "stepped down" from the editorship of the Sunday Correspondent, it resulted from an 8am meeting with the chairman, Sir John Nott. His respect for my editorship over a year of publication of the paper was such, he said, that he wanted to make me editor-in-chief. This begged the question, which I posed: how could you could be editor-in-chief when the company published just one title and would appoint a new editor who wouldn't take the job if there was an editor-in-chief? My foreseeable future lasted another 20 minutes.

What goes round comes round, and what comes round is often John Bryant. He succeeded me as editor, and a few days ago he became editor-in-chief at the Telegraph. Today he is acting editor of The Daily Telegraph and presumably his own editor-in-chief. (Along the way he has edited The European and held very senior positions at The Times and the Daily Mail.)

So poor old Newland is hired by Conrad Black and endures a protracted period as editor-in-limbo while his paper is up for sale and his rivals are turning compact, and then another period wondering whether the new owners will wish to retain his services. He sees the arrival from the Daily Mail of an all-powerful chief executive, is allowed (or told) to hire new writers and relaunch his paper, endures a whispering campaign that his position is insecure, and is then told he is to have an editor-in-chief, from the Daily Mail.

Apart from the obvious "what a way to run a newspaper", it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Daily Mail influence is rampant. A new editor of any calibre is bound to have his or her own views about the direction the paper should take, so there will be more change in content and staff. Why bother with a Newland relaunch if they were going to do it all again?

And whither the editor of the Sunday title, Sarah Sands? She will have been no more impressed by the idea of an editor-in-chief than Newland. And she has also just conducted a relaunch. She should keep her head down, in the knowledge that losing one editor is careless, losing two (not to mention Boris) would make the group a laughing stock.

A year ago, Newland said he had Mail readers in his sights as he sought to build the Telegraph's sale. He should have worried more about its staff.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

Comments