The ex-editors mystery

A week may be a long time in politics, but the same goes for who is in and who is out of regional editors’ chairs.

I came back from a break to discover that Rachael Campey had quit the Yorkshire Post, Alastair Milburn had resigned from the South Wales Echo and John McLellan was moving back to the Edinburgh Evening News from Scotland On Sunday.

So what, you might say. These comings and goings are all part of the rich tapestry of the regional press and mean nothing special.

Often that is the case, but behind these movements are stories that make the announcements a tad more unusual than most.

Starting with Campey, we are none the wiser, reading the press cuttings, as to why she has gone.

Her ‘turbulent’ 18 months at the Yorkshire Post has been well documented, but who got fed up with whom remains a mystery to the world at large.

It leaves a big job in journalism up for grabs again, somewhat quicker than owner Johnston Press may have anticipated. And will all of this make it more difficult to find a successor? Certainly anyone interested would need to know exactly what the recent issues were before committing themselves.

Then onto Milburn, who is leaving the Echo to start up his own media consultancy and training company in Wales.

The Echo was his first editorship, and he was regarded as one of Trinity Mirror’s brightest young things, which is what makes this slightly surprising.

He denies it is anything to do with editorial job losses, citing it as purely personal, but even so, to be losing himso soon into the job will be a blow to the company.

And finally to McLellan, who is leaving the hotseat at Scotland on Sunday to return to the Edinburgh Evening News.

He has a third child on the way, and is honest enough to admit that a Sunday paper is not conducive to being a hands-on dad.

Any Sunday hack will say that working a very long Saturday leaves you fairly shattered the following day – and that’s the end of the weekend for you – and your family.

And one of the many beauties of working on an evening is that once you have mastered the early start you can usually get home to see young children before they go to bed – and spend most of your weekend with them as well.

But what was most interesting about the announcement was that the current evening paper editor Ian Stewart is off to be deputy on The Scotsman.

Stewart, who has had a very successful short reign on the News, will return to the paper he once news edited. This move is described by his editorial boss as a promotion, which gives an insight into the hierarchy at the multi-title centre.

The Scotsman clearly has a formidable reputation, has a wide circulation footprint, thinks of itself as a national paper – and is classified as such in the ABCs.

But it only sells 234 copies a day more than its evening stable mate – so would you consider leaving the editor’s job for a deputy’s role a promotion? In most multi-title centres there is a clear jewel in the crown – but what gives it that definition? In cities such as Newcastle, Birmingham and Liverpool, the evening papers rule supreme on both the advertising and circulation front.

In Aberdeen and Norwich the same could be said about the mornings.

But is gets trickier in cities such as Cardiff and Leeds. The Yorkshire Post is a prestigious brand, but sells fewer copies than its slick evening sister paper.

And staff on the Western Mail may think of their paper as Wales’ national title but it still sells 14,730 copies Monday to Friday fewer than the South Wales Evening Echo.

No doubt both morning papers are extremely successful on the advertising front and I am sure the Scotsman falls into this category too.

But I still wonder how many department heads on successful evenings would view a move to the deputy’s chair on the morning paper a promotion? Answers on a postcard, please.

Political correspondents have long complained about the amount of spin and interference they have encountered under this particular government.

But when you read the extraordinary and frightening goings on in Russia, you realise how comparatively hands-off Blair and Co are.

It was bad enough for the editor of a Russian national newspaper to be sacked over his frank coverage of the Beslan tragedy.

But then we learn that one of the country’s most respected correspondents claims she was poisoned, possibly by an air stewardess, en route to report from the siege. She never made it to file a story.

Other journalists, according to the World Association of Newspapers, have been detained by police, and WAN have called on President Putin to stop state interference.

It all sounds like something out of a John le Carre´ novel, but this is going on in 2004 in a country that declares itself to have shed all those terrible totalitarian traits.

The Labour Party may have been dreading some of the newspaper coverage to emerge from Brighton last week, and will have been putting their best spin on events, but at least hacks will have travelled down to the south coast with only the danger of being poisoned by the buffet trolley.

More bad news for beleaguered journalists working for the BBC – local papers are now more trusted by the public.

In a very timely piece of research by those masters of regional press promotion, the Newspaper Society, the public put local papers one per cent higher than the BBC.

This is the first time the regional press has topped this particular table, although it has usually been there or thereabouts.

But before we get too smug, it’s worth noting that only 20 per cent of people quoted local papers when asked which media they considered to be particularly trustworthy.

It’s great to top any poll, but would you really be happy with an exam mark of 20 per cent on any topic? With national newspapers getting just 11 per cent, national BBC radio 10 per cent, ITV/C4/C5 getting eight per cent and mags a paltry six per cent – it goes to show the sorry state the industry is in when it comes to being trusted by the public.

Alison Hastings is a media consultant and trainer and former editor of the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle

Next week: Chris Shaw

by Alison Hastings

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