IN MOST towns and cities in Britain, the editor of the local newspaper used to be a man of significance; a figurehead of the community, a person to be looked up to. You could see it at school fetes and WI coffee mornings, town council meetings and business forums.
This due – or perhaps undue – reverence gradually diminished as first children in suits began to get the top jobs, and then as the position itself began to be ‘rationalised’, leaving the local newspaper to be run by a stranger on an industrial estate 30 miles down the road.
One place where The Editor is still a respected figure is Stoke-on-Trent, largely due to the regard in which the local daily, The Sentinel, is held by the rather insular population. (I don’t mean ‘insular’ in a bad way – more as a reflection of local pride and a loyalty to one’s roots.) Indeed, the Sentinel even features in the writing of local hero Arnold Bennett, who reinvented it as The Signal in his splendid novel The Card. However, I suspect that this might be about to change.
Having had only four men in the editor’s chair in the past 40 years, The Sentinel is now in danger of succumbing the relentless roundabout of doom that has inflicted other titles as the latest incumbent, the vastly experienced and decidedly decent Richard Bowyer, is dispensed with after only 15 months in the job.
He is not alone. Seven regional daily editors have been ‘moved on’ since May, a point flagged up by a tweet from Wolverhampton Express & Star editor Keith Harrison who said: “The regional newspaper industry can’t afford to keep losing experienced editors and expect to maintain quality.”
The danger in chopping and changing at the top is threefold. You lose the ability to implement that vital team-building, inspiration and direction; you rob the community of someone who should become an influential figurehead and force for good; and you undermine public confidence in your newspaper.
But then, as we’re finding out on a near monthly basis, the people running our newspaper companies don’t seem to think that editors are required any more – along with reporters, subs and photographers.
THERE HAS been much written in the past week about the ‘glamourisation’ of what once was a simple paper poppy. In our modern world of competitive mourning, the glitzier your poppy, the more you obviously care. What utter tosh.
I have always struggled to understand why some people see the need to buy a ‘permanent poppy’ when the whole idea is to provide an annual influx of funds to the Royal British Legion. Let’s face it, once you’ve invested £25 in a bejewelled poppy, you’re not going to chuck it away and buy another one the next year. And the RBL itself is complicit in this, knocking out all kind of poppy merchandise from its own website.
Now, just to prove what a stupid notion this whole thing is, the Daily Mail has jumped on the bandwagon (rather late in the day, it must be said) giving away ceramic poppy brooches to the first 3,000 readers who collect the necessary tokens. And fear not, if you’re unlucky in the draw the Mail will be “releasing thousands more ceramic brooches for sale at £28 each over the coming weeks”.
This obviously means that thousands of Mail readers may now see no need to give money to the RBL every year for the rest of their lives, so Lord Dacre’s organ will donate £15 to the charity for every poppy given away and says, somewhat obliquely, that “all the proceeds” of the poppy brooches they sell will also go to the RBL.
I suppose there is a slight hope that sanity might eventually prevail. When there are thousands of Daily Mail readers wandering around brandishing their fancy poppy brooches next autumn (I’m betting one will be sighted before September is out) then normal people might suddenly find this tasteless trend unfashionable after all.
UNLESS I’M missing something, another newspaper playing fast and loose with charitable donations is the usually respectable Northern Echo. The Darlington-based paper has commissioned a local artist to produce illustrations for the front and back pages of its Remembrance Sunday special edition. Now this is on sale for £1, with 10p from every sale going to an appeal supporting a local Help for Heroes rehabilitation centre. Yet the normal daily edition only costs 70p.
Now I’m no mathematical genius, but it seems to me that owners Newsquest are quietly pocketing an extra 20p a copy off the back of a national day of mourning, which doesn’t seem very charitable after all.
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