IN THE light of the Daily Telegraph’s allegedly ‘cosy’ relationship with HSBC, I have a shocking confession to make.
I once bowed to commercial pressure and spiked a negative article. There, I’ve said it.
The story in question was a restaurant review. Now we prided ourselves on doing proper reviews: none of this “send someone along for a free meal and then write nice things about us” nonsense which is so prevalent in the regional press. Our reviewers were anonymous, paid their own way and, most importantly, were experts in their field. We tried to be scrupulously fair. We wouldn’t review a new pub or restaurant until the chef and menu had had time to bed in and if we came across a real stinker, we’d send the review to the owner to allow him or her to address the problems before returning at a later date to review the place again. Second time around they were fair game. This was a ‘second time’ review, and things hadn’t improved.
The problem arose when the ad rep who looked after this particular ‘gastropub’ went hunting in the editorial system and found the review. She then went running to the ad manager, worried that she might lose the few hundred quid that this place spent all year, and she in turn went to our recently-appointed Publisher, a man of little actual experience and very little brain. And he told me – TOLD ME – to spike the review.
Now obviously I told him to fuck off, but things had changed in our business. Rather than the equitable relationship editors and managing directors used to enjoy in the olden days, it was now very clear that he was boss, even when it came to content. I was understandably furious, seeing such interference as a breach of a sacred code. I argued the toss for several days, right up until the point that the review should have gone to print. I was then informed that if I didn’t drop it, he’d have the page replaced by our production department. I was outranked and outflanked. There was only one thing left to do – resign on principle.
Ten years earlier I would have done it. But I still had a big mortgage to pay off and there weren’t many other jobs going out there. To my eternal shame, I swallowed my pride and looked the other way as the dirty deed was done. I regretted it then and I regret it now. Many sleepless nights were spent raging against the machine.
Still, the gastropub soon went bust, the ad rep lost her commission and the Publisher cracked up under the pressure of the ridiculous demands of the bonus-hungry suits and went off to start an alpaca farm in Perth, so justice was done. I still live with the shame, though…
The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan