Axe grinder 27.01.06

Whale dress code didn’t suit McGee

THE Westminster whale is probably chuckling away in whale heaven over the chaos she brought to Fleet Street in her final hours.

The
moribund mammal sent newsdesks into paroxysms of exclusive-chasing
panic not seen since the battle to save Blackie the donkey from certain
death at the hands of the Spaniards in 1986.

The Sunday Mirror
shoehorned Aussie staffer Michael Duffy into a wetsuit to join the
official British Divers Marine Life Rescue launch battling to save the
northern bottlenose. The newsdesk watched in triumph as pictures of
Duffy’s gleaming pate were beamed across the world as he toiled away in
the water with the expert team around the whale.

But the images
did not make happy viewing at the News of the World, according to my
spies in Wapping, where blood pressure levels soared. Reporter David
McGee, who was in frantic pursuit in another boat, was ordered to match
the pictures of Duffy in the water at any price.

“He was wearing
a very smart suit, but had to put on a lifejacket and get into the
Thames for a picture next to the whale,” sniggers my source. “He came
out shivering and dripping in mud and filth. It was not a pretty sight
and the suit must have been ruined.”

We trust NoW editor Andy Coulson will send him to Savile Row to pick a replacement on expenses.

Goodbye to the loveshack?

IS it the end of an era for The Spectator?

I hear staff at the magazine’s loveshack, sorry HQ, in Clerkenwell could be on the move.

According
to my spies, Andrew Neil is privately keen to flog the Georgian
townhouse where romances blossomed for Sextator leg-over merchants like
publisher Kimberly Quinn, ex-editor Boris Johnson and columnist Rod
Liddle, to name but a few.

The suggestion has devastated the fragile egos in Doughty Street, who are positively tearful at the thought of upping sticks.

The
sale could rake in up to £3m for the billionaire Barclay brothers. But
insiders fear a move could destroy the “unique character” of the mag.

“It may be some way off, but the view is that Andrew Neil favours a sale,”

confides one staff member. “We’d all be very sad to go. Everyone is very fond of the place.”

The
move would see The Spectator transferred to The Daily Telegraph’s
gleaming new quarters close to Victoria Station – hardly the place to
conduct a discreet affair with so many bean-counters and bosses around.

Scunthorpe fans look away

THERE have been irritating teething troubles following Trinity Mirror’s decision to outsource its digital cuttings service.

Until recently the cuts, which are used by Mirror hacks and also
sold to other organisations, were compiled by the firm’s London-based
library staff.

The seven librarians were packed off with redundo cheques when Trinity bosses discovered they could get cheap labour in Delhi.

It is not clear whether the Delhi team actually speak English. But it is obvious that they are having a problem with drop caps.

Horse racing has lost an ‘aitch in the cuts to become ‘Orse racing’.

And
what about the match report of Scunthorpe United versus Man City? It
has ended up in the digital cuts library in such an offensive way it is
guaranteed to have every Scunthorpe fan stretching for the smelling
salts…

Training need for ‘pain’

INTERESTING news reaches me
of Guardian journalist Benjamin Joffe- Walt, a former human shield in
Iraq, whose colourful accounts from China sparked panic at the paper
last year.

Followers of his work may remember his tale about
Chinese activist Lu Banglie: “He lay there – his eye out of its socket,
his tongue cut, a stream of blood dropping from his mouth, his body
limp, twisted. The ligaments in his neck were broken, so his head lay
sideways as if connected to the rest of his body by a rubber band. The
only question was whether Lu Banglie was already dead or near death.”

Er,
not quite. The Guardian was forced to issue a humiliating clarification
in October that Lu Banglie was alive and well, bar a “pain in the neck”

– a feeling possibly shared by the paper’s editor, Alan Rusbridger.

Colleagues
of Joffe-Walt now whisper that the boy wonder has been sent on a
training course – doubtless to the sound of stable doors being shut at
the paper’s Farringdon Road HQ.

Curiously, JW’s most recent
article appears to have been helping to conduct interviews on the
rather less taxing subject of whether it’s okay to have sex on a first
date.

Inflatable sheep? How he’ll laugh

As Axegrinder went to press, an inflatable sheep and hay bales were
set to make a star appearance at the leaving do for the Sunday Mirror’s
veteran crime correspondent, Andy Gardner.

But colleagues were swift to point out that the sheep is no
reflection on Gardner’s private life or future plans as a freelance.
“He’s got a strong West Country accent,” says a fellow hack.

“I’m sure he’ll think it’s extremely funny.”

Jones: time for a grander job?

As
predicted here two weeks ago, the rapid round of job swaps among the
lobby hacks at Westminster has seen the Daily Mail’s political
correspondent, Graeme Wilson, sign up for The Daily Telegraph.

But there is a question mark over how long Telegraph political editor George Jones will stay in charge.

A
clutch of political editors, including Trevor Kavanagh at The Sun,
Michael White at The Guardian, David Hughes at the Daily Mail and
Patrick O’Flynn at the Daily Express, have all taken grander jobs to
make way for ambitious young bloods.

Now the spotlight is on
Jones – who has a difficult relationship with his deputy Toby Helm, not
unlike that of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – to announce his departure
date.

“A bit like Margaret Thatcher, he just seems to be going on and on,”

confides one fellow lobby hack. “But the view is that he will be booted upstairs soon.”

Reading papers is the way to learn, Nick

THE BBC appears to have finally rediscovered its backbone after
adopting an ultra-cautious approach after the Hutton Inquiry and the
furore over Andrew Gilligan’s reports on dodgy dossiers.

But critics within the Beeb fear political editor Nick Robinson and
his colleagues at Westminster have gone too far in their desperation to
be seen to be breaking exclusives ahead of rivals at ITN and Sky.

To
the consternation of some broadcasters at the corporation, the phrase
“the BBC has learnt” is now trotted out regularly as the opening line
to several bulletin items.

“The phrase even gets used on pretty
middle-ranking stories these days,” a senior correspondent at the BBC’s
Millbank HQ complains. “Much of the time, no-one has ‘learnt’ anything
that hasn’t already appeared in the newspapers.”

Recipients of email to lodge complaint?

SPARE a thought for Fleet Street veteran Rob Gibson, who has learnt the hard way about the dangers of email.

The
former Daily Express political editor and dedicated fund-raiser for
journalists’ charity the NPF now runs the highly regarded Gallery News
at the House of Commons. Gibson sends out stories daily to a host of
outlets, including MPs at Westminster.

Unfortunately, Gibson sent out one email in error last week that was a little too “exclusive”.

To
the great man’s consternation, it contained the minutes of the latest
meeting of his Masonic lodge. Now there’s open government for you.

Red Cross? More like red bloody furious!

Spankings
all round at The Independent after the whizz-kids behind
editor-in-chief Simon Kelner’s “conceptual” front pages fell foul of
the British Red Cross.

Louise Hayman, the newspaper’s legal
chief, fired off the following “confidential” email (see below), which
has, inevitably, been leaked to Axegrinder.

 

the 1pm girl life begins at lunchtime

IT
appears not everyone shares Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre’s dream that
everyone should live in Middle England, drinking warm beer as pretty
maidens cycle past the village cricket pitch.

I’m told that the winners of the Mail’s competition to win a ‘bijou’

cottage in Wiltshire have put the place on the market for £315,000 because they already have a place in the country.

MEDIA
commentator and ex- Independent on Sunday editor Kim Fletcher blames
the dwindling circulation of Sunday papers on the plethora of extra
sections now appearing in their Saturday rivals.

Fletcher, as he
admitted in his piece for the MediaGuardian, is married to Sunday
Telegraph editor Sarah Sands, who has recently presided over a slump in
sales.

Must be nice to have the old man doing the PR for you.

EVENING
Standard editor Veronica Wadley has taken the courageous decision of
relying on the honesty of MPs in her latest sales drive.

For the
first time, copies of the paper are available from an unmanned stand at
the entrances to the House of Commons from Westminster tube station.

Buyers are supposed to drop their 40p in an “honesty box”

alongside the papers. Fat chance.

STAFF
are suspicious at the latest email from Trinity Mirror’s human
resources director Steve Bird who gushes that he is “pleased to
announce” two new benefit schemes for employees.

One gives staff
the chance to buy a computer or laptop at “low cost” from PC World. But
worried hacks fear the offer could soon mean an end to the days of
laptops supplied by the company.

MORE rumblings of discontent at
The Sunday Times where journalists fear for the future of the Insight
investigations unit. Bosses have always insisted it will not be
ditched. But senior hacks whisper that the latest bout of feuding
between journalists and execs means that Insight’s fate might be
finally sealed.

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