Axegrinder 09.03.07

Indy staff in the dark over redundancy deal

News reaches me of discontent and confusion among staff at The Independent over the paper’s redundancy scheme.

According to my mole at the paper’s Docklands HQ, more than 70 of editor-in-chief Simon Kelner’s (pictured right) happy team have applied to jump ship.

So far it appears just one deal has been cut to allow The Independent on Sunday’s deputy editor Michael Williams to take up an offer of voluntary redundancy – described as “the most generous seen in Fleet Street for years”.

One veteran feature writer is said to have been turned down for the deal. But the rest of the hacks are still in the dark. “It’s typical of the Indy,” mutters one gloomy writer.

Among those who have applied for the package is The Independent’s long-serving labour editor Barry Clement, according to media pundit Peter Wilby.

Wilby laments in a piece for The Guardian that this would mean the departure of Fleet Street’s last labour editor “except for the Morning Star and an ’employment correspondent’ on the Financial Times”.

Not every editor will share his sadness about the end of this often thirsty and truculent bunch which once sent Tony Blair packing with some choice expletives when he tried to join them for a drink in his days as Labour’s employment spokesman.

But surely Wilby should have name-checked Alan Jones, who continues to toil away as the Press Association’s long-serving and highly regarded industrial correspondent?

Lobby battle over cash for honours claims

A vicious bout of back-stabbing has erupted among Westminster’s Lobby journalists over the cash for honours affair.

The mud-slinging over the source of the various leaks in the scandal has reached “epic proportions”, according to my spies in the Commons.

Exclusives in The Sun and The Times are dismissed as the “usual rubbish from Number Ten” by rivals on other titles.

Meanwhile, some hacks have revived the unkind nickname “Mandy’s urinal”

(after Blairite ex-Minister Peter Mandelson) for The Guardian’s political editor Patrick Wintour, casting aspersions over his take on the story.

Meanwhile, the BBC and Sky News are locked in their own desperate battle to break the “killer fact” in the story.

“Everyone’s claiming their exclusive is the big one,” says one jaded political correspondent. “The real truth is that no-one has managed to produce a single shred of documentary evidence on cash for honours for a year.”

Rowlatt nearly hangs himself out to dry

The BBC’s Newsnight made a huge fuss about the sacrifices made by its reporter Justin Rowlatt as he lived for a year as the show’s “ethical man”.

The job meant giving away the family car and drastic cutbacks on powerthirsty electrical appliances at the Rowlatt home to show how to help tackle climate change.

But it appears Rowlatt may not have been quite as ethical as he claimed – judging by a slip he made in a Radio Five Live interview with wife Bee.

Rowlatt said his sacrifices included “using the tumble dryer less”.

Fortunately, Bee quickly cut in and added: “We didn’t use it at all.”

Of course not, Justin.

NoW says ‘they will’ – or is it ‘they won’t’?

Hacks at the News of the World appear to have a weekly struggle to decide on the state of Kate Moss and Pete Doherty’s tempestuous relationship.

In the latest exclusive, reporter Dan Wootton says Doherty and Moss “stood side by side after a boozy awards night and told the News of the World: We’re getting married”.

How very different from the revelations made by the paper’s showbiz columnist Rav Singh barely a fortnight ago: “Kate Moss has catwalked out of Pete Doherty’s life to find her Mr Right, I can exclusively reveal.”

Axegrinder is no showbiz expert, but I reckon one of the two tales will definitely prove to be true. Get the rag-outs ready.

Papers’ execs are questioned in the House

Tuesday proved a very tricky day to get hold of senior executives on certain national titles.

I wonder if the fact that some twitchy-bottomed bosses had their phones switched off had anything to do with a certain event at the House of Commons.

News International boss Les Hinton, Mirror managing editor Eugene Duffy and Mail executive managing editor Robin Esser were dragged before MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to answer a few questions.

“We didn’t want any tricky follow-up questions about stuff like phone-tapping,” admitted one wary exec.

Guardian crash graphic goes off the rails

Pictures of the Virgin train crash in Cumbria last month will doubtless prove one of the most memorable images of the year.

Sadly, the picture imprinted on the minds of Guardian readers might be rather different – judging by the following correction in the paper: “A graphic headed ‘How disaster struck the London-Glasgow Express’ (News, last week) was a mirror-image of the Grayrigg derailment. Consequently, the position of the derailed coaches was reversed.”

Oh dear.

BBC’s Hari may have to eat his words

After a stint in the USA, the BBC’s Guto Hari is returning to London.

I’m sure his former colleagues at the House of Commons will be among those keen to welcome back the Welshman – even though he once referred to them in a leaving speech as “saddos” for covering political stories while he jetted off on glamorous foreign assignments.

National papers are otherwise engaged

Veteran Sun Royal snapper Arthur Edwards may have been in for a roasting from editor Rebekah Wade after letting slip to a Commons Select Committee that Prince William was planning to propose to girlfriend Kate Middleton.

The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee was convened on Tuesday to discuss – among other things – infringement of Ms Middleton’s privacy.

So it was ironic that Arthur seemed to rather infringe the couple’s privacy himself by telling MPs and a packed press gallery: “She’s a private citizen, she needs a bit of space. She’s in love with Prince William – I’m sure of that and I’m sure one day they’ll get married and I’ve talked to William about this.”

“I have talked to him about that and he’s made it clear… he wants to get married.”

Such momentous news would no doubt have been of great interest to Sun readers – but instead the scoop was revealed in Tuesday’s Evening Standard.

The plot thickened on Wednesday when none of the nationals opted to follow up the story.

Are prospective Royal engagements no longer news? Or have the editors done a deal with Clarence House press office to keep quiet about any engagement until they are given the green light?

Desmond in the spotlight

My chums at the Daily Express have drawn my attention to two extraordinary pieces in The Sunday Times’ business section (4 March) about Richard Desmond.

Headlined “Bonanza for Desmond”, the first reveals how the Express publisher made an “astonishing £100mplus gain” on the group’s HQ overlooking the River Thames.

The second item by business hack Ben Laurance is about Desmond’s adult TV empire. He gleefully reminds readers of Desmond’s “money-spinning outlets such as The Fantasy Channel, Red Hot All Girl and Red Hot 40+ Wives”.

Desmond has milked an estimated £130 million “from his extraordinary cash cow” in pay and pension payments since he bought the firm for £125 million in 2000, drools the writer.

But Laurance cannot resist rounding off the piece with a jibe about the annual £7.6m rent which the Express pays to a company owned by Desmond and wife Janet.

“The huge rent payments just add to the fortune he has extracted from the self-proclaimed ‘world’s greatest newspaper'”, he writes ever so slightly sarcastically.

Email of the week: “Leaked” from Archant’s East London weeklies:

It has been brought to my attention that the Gents toilets are being soiled on a daily basis.

When you use the toilet to urinate LIFT THE SEAT.

The attached photo shows how a member of staff is happy to leave the toilet for the next person to use.

This disgusting habit is completely unacceptable and must stop immediately.

Should this continue we will, by process of elimination, catch, name and shame the culprit.

John Hooker Publishing Director

If you have an axe to grind – or some scandal to share, email axegrinder@pressgazette.co.uk Alternatively, call the Press Gazette newsdesk on 020 7234 2337

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