Marek Mayer

Environmental journalist at Ends

Tuesday 26 July 2005 00:00

Marek Mayer was a consummate environmental journalist. For over 20 years, he edited the monthly intelligence journal The Ends Report, and ensured that it became essential reading for anyone seriously interested in understanding the complexities of contemporary environmental policy.

The idea for Ends (Environmental Data Services) arose from a meeting in the late 1970s with David Layton of Income Data Services and the conservationist Max Nicholson. John Elkington was hired as the first editor, and it rapidly became clear that Ends was a concept that had found its moment. It was the decade that saw the Stockholm conference on the environment, the establishment of the UK Department of the Environment, and the first European Community legislation on the environment. Indeed, it is now almost impossible for those who follow environmental developments to remember how one survived without Ends.

The need for more heavyweight writers became apparent, and Marek Mayer, who was then in his late twenties and, having recently completed a master's course in environmental studies at Manchester University, was looking for work in the environmental field, was hired as staff journalist. For the first six months or so, Elkington wondered whether he had made a terrible mistake in the appointment. Mayer read and read, and talked endlessly to people involved in environmental policy but, to the despair of his editor, wrote almost nothing. But then, as Elkington recalls, after this lengthy gestation period he suddenly went critical, like a nuclear reactor, and poured forth a regular stream of insightful and authoritative copy, something that he continued to do for the rest of his life.

Mayer's initial approach was typical of his style. He avoided sensationalism and, although sympathetic to environmental concerns, was at heart a journalist of the best sort, concerned at getting to the bottom of what was happening and explaining it in the wider context. Mayer succeeded John Elkington as Editor of The Ends Report in 1981, and for many years it seemed that each monthly issue was written solely by him - produced out of endless all-night sessions in what was a self-constructed sweatshop. Ends became a by-word for authoritative analysis. Government officials read it to find out what was going on in other departments, and sometimes their own. As industry began responding to contemporary environmental pressures, the journal contained increasingly detailed accounts of both good and bad industrial practice.

Marek Mayer knew that the devil often lies in the detail. When Michael Heseltine became Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment in the late 1980s, he introduced a new management accounting system which involved the annual production of detailed tables of departmental targets and resources. Mayer was one of the few outsiders prepared to read through these dense and turgid documents, and to understand and then explain what they really implied for the delivery of policy.

He had an extraordinary memory for detail. Name a company that had recently been in the news for promoting its environmental credentials and he would recall a successful prosecution against it many years previously. He was deeply suspicious of cant and spin. In the first years following the setting up of the Environmental Agency in 1996, he was anxious that it was failing to live up to its promise of a new integrated approach to the environment, and that the reorganisation had in practice devalued priorities being given to waste regulation. He kept up a stream of critical reports of the agency's performance, and in retrospect his concerns were largely justified, with the result that waste was pushed to the top of the agency's agenda.

Under his editorship, Ends expanded greatly. The monthly journal itself grew in size, as did the numbers of staff. A complementary daily information service was introduced, and Ends produced a number of authoritative research reports on the implementation of law and policy that would have put many an environmental academic to shame. In 1997 the size of the operation required a change of structure with the appointment of Julian Rose as Editor, and with Mayer assuming a more strategic role as Editorial Director. But his high professional standards of writing, coupled with his belief in the distinctive value of Ends, meant that delegation did not come easily to him, and his new role did not relieve him from the pressure of continued detailed involvement.

Marek Mayer was proud of his Polish ancestry, and appropriately his 50th birthday in 2002 was celebrated in the Polish Hearth Club in Kensington. He was a shy and reserved person who would normally avoid at all costs being the centre of attention. His longstanding partner, the writer Sue Gee, fearful that he would simply refuse to turn up, tried to keep the event a surprise by some elaborate ruses that were carried out by some of Britain's leading environmentalists. His journalist skills, though, soon detected the plot, but in the event he relished the evening, and it was one of the few times he was known to have given a public speech.

When Mayer discovered he was suffering from an unusual form of kidney cancer, his investigative style typified his approach to the illness. He read widely on the subject, and consultants found themselves being quizzed in immense detail on the latest research findings and new treatment methods. Throughout, he continued his writing and involvement with Ends, and secured the purchase of the journal by Haymarket Publications in order to secure its long-term future.

Richard Macrory

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