Colin Webb: Innovative editor who left an indelible mark on the Press Association

Colin Webb, who has died aged 74, was a highly effective editor of the Press Association from 1986 to 1995 and successfully steered the agency through a crucial period in its history.

Webb was a hugely experienced hard news man, both in Fleet Street and regional journalism before he took over the editor’s chair at the PA. He played a major role in bringing about technology changes at the PA, led the agency through a period of recession, during which job losses inevitably occurred, and he battled through the first stirrings of what turned out to be abortive attempts by UK News to put the Press Asociation out of business altogether.

Webb also coined what he regarded as the basic ABC of the Press Association: Authority, Balance, Clarity.

Colin Thomas Webb was born on March 26, 1939, and trained on the Evening News, Portsmouth, before spending some 18 months as a PA reporter in the early 1960s.

He then joined The Times as part of their news team of “firefighters”, dashing off at a moment’s notice to wherever in the world a big story was breaking.

Webb became news editor of The Times before editing the Cambridge Evening News for eight years. He was then recalled “out of the blue” by The Times as the paper’s deputy editor, becoming one of the most influential figures on the paper until the PA offer came along.

One of his first tasks was to set about bringing the PA up to date in high technology.

Webb also introduced a highly popular news service in 1980, called PA Select. For the first time in its history, the PA was taking on the copy-tasting and sub-editing role of regional newspapers by providing a brief and lively summary of the main stories of the day.

He also introduced political opinion polls for the first time in PA’s history. Whereas most polls carried out by newspapers involved a sample of around 1,000 people, the PA polls ran to 10,000 and could be broken down into 12 regional areas. Another poll initiated by Webb showed that alcohol had become Britain’s third greatest killer after heart disease and cancer.

One of the prime beneficiaries of his restructuring of the editorial system was the features department which he felt had taken a back seat for far too long.

Webb, a kindly and innovative man left an indelible mark on the Press Association, not least because of his initiative in dispersing of important departments, such as sport, to the north of England.

He will be remembered for his determination to ensure that the Press Association kept abreast of and ahead of the rest of Fleet Street and provided its customers with the finest and fastest news service possible.

The Times in its obituary today describe Webb as "a professional to his fingertips" and "an all-round journalist of the old school".

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