David Banks: Newspaper editors - well paid? Yes, but sadly expendable

Poor Wallace, poor Weaver. Like most of their predecessors, the two Mirror editors found out the hard way that only winners are grinners and losers can’t be choosers – writes guest blogger David Banks.

Called to the MD’s office they were told ‘You’re fired, effective immediately’and marched to the front door so fast that Richard only had time to call over his shoulder to gawping reporters: ‘Tell my secretary I’ve been sacked.”

Overnight, an editor who was yesterday’s cock of the walk becomes the weakest link; wink-wink, goodbye! It is the modern way, public humiliation pioneered by Big Brother and Sir Alan Sugar – who won a primetime TV slot and a BAFTA for his managerial nastiness – and reported by the redtop titles from which Tina and Richard have been expunged.

It may be nasty but it’s not new; editors, like Premiership football managers, are highly paid to produce big results and when daily circulation estimates display a dizzying downward spiral a fat pay packet is a millstone that tightens like a noose around an editor’s neck.

Some of us members of FREE! (Fellowship of Resentful Ex-Editors!) were let down gently: when I was removed from the Mirror editorship I was, I told Ian Katz of The Guardian in a subsequent interview, ‘kicked UPstairs DOWN the lift shaft’into an Editorial Directorship, keeping my trappings of office until the indigestion induced by swallowed pride plus the offer of my own breakfast radio show gave me sweet release.

Most are not that lucky: when I left New York for Sydney to take up the deputy editorship of The Australian, Rupert Murdoch defenestrated the editor to whom I was reporting while I was still somewhere high over the Indian Ocean.

Seven years later, met at Heathrow by David Montgomery and Charles Wilson to occupy the supposedly vacant Mirror editor’s chair and dozing as we drove through wintry London streets, I snapped out of my snooze when I heard Monty tell Charlie: ‘I’ll drop off at Claridge’s and break the bad news to [doomed editor Richard] Stott and you take David to the office to get the paper out.”

‘Required’ resignations are slightly more dignified: Colin Myler ‘resigned’ after his Sunday Mirror was adjudged to have prejudiced the trials of two Premiership footballers and Piers Morgan ‘walked’ after the Mirror admitted it had been conned over the Iraqi prisoner torture photographs.

Being fired isn’t ALL negative: some editors get the last laugh. Fired as northern editor of the Daily Express, so legend has it, Roger Wood (NOT my old Sun mate) sent in his twin brother, a barrister, to negotiate his severance package with the paper’s legal head (who barely knew the REAL editor). Result? Deep joy and a six-figure deal.

Of course, chief execs get theirs in the end. Almost as soon as she’d shown Wallace and Weaver the door, Trinity Mirror’s Sly Bailey was abruptly directed to the same exit. And Clive Thornton, brought in by Reed International in the mid-1980s to sort out the drinking culture that was draining Mirror profits, was himself bounced six months later when Reed sold secretly to Maxwell.

Shame, really. Thornton’s false limb had created a saying among topers at the old Mirror building:
‘In the Land of the Legless, the one-legged man is king!”

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