This is a great industry. We should salute it

Press
Gazette’s new owner, Piers Morgan, talks candidly to editor Ian Reeves
about his bullish plans for the title and how he intends to become
‘Citizen Kane in reverse’

Q: Your first move as Press Gazette’s new
owner has been to clear the front page for a spoof of Citizen Kane’s
Declaration of Principles letter, which the character wrote when he
bought his first publication. Does the tale of one man’s descent from
high integrity into reckless megalomania strike a chord with you?

A: Ian, get your coat.

But before I leave… other people will be wondering the same thing.

Well,
Kane had the disadvantage of starting from a position of high
integrity, so had a long way to fall. I have never suffered from such
an affliction, so have only one way to move. So I guess I am hoping for
a reverse Kane by buying PG – a rapid movement from disgraced reckless
megalomania to high integrity.

How long have you been a Press Gazette reader?

I
first started reading it as a cub reporter on the Wimbledon News back
in the mid-Eighties. The world of Fleet Street seemed so glamorous
then, and Press Gazette fuelled my desire to work there with its weekly
round-up of stories, gossip, mayhem and scandal. I was one of those
weird and disturbed young trainee reporters who really did aspire to be
Kelvin MacKenzie.

Why did you decide to buy the title?

Matthew
Freud, who is an old friend despite his many obvious professional and
personal flaws, rang me from one of his yachts about a month ago and
said: “Press Gazette is for sale – shall we buy it?” I burst out
laughing, as did he. The whole idea seemed at the more fanciful end of
the poacher-turnedgamekeeper scale. But then we both talked about it a
little more seriously and realised it may actually be a rather good
idea.

I have read, and starred in, the magazine for the past 20
years and have a deep and genuine affection for it. In fact, one of
Press Gazette’s front covers is on my loo wall – the headline says:
Piers Morgan: I Was a Total Prat and a Complete Tosser. That not
entirely inaccurate confession came from a letter I had sent Stuart
Higgins when he was editor of The Sun, after we’d unfairly maligned him
over the Bruce Grobbelaar trial. He leaked my strictly private and
confidential note straight to Jean Morgan, which was fair enough. But I
realised that the surest way to prevent that headline reappearing in PG
was to buy it…

As an independent editor, I can’t make any promises, obviously…

Obviously…
Anyway, the more Matthew and I talked, the keener we became on buying
PG. The magazine has suffered from endless new owners and a lack of
love and resources for years. That is something that I know all about
having edited the Mirror for a decade, trust me.

You have said that The Publican was deemed to be a better trade magazine than PG – we weren’t exactly overjoyed by that remark.

I
meant it was better in terms of its commercial value. The Publican was
sold for £21million, and PG was sold for… shall we just say, it was a
little cheaper.

I have nothing but respect for the valiant job
that you and your team have done under very difficult circumstances.
The recent relaunch was particularly impressive. But given that every
trade magazine is written by journalists but only Press Gazette is for
journalists, it is absurd that PG is not considered to be the best
trade magazine in Britain. And I hope that we can redress that
situation sharpish.

Of course, we will have to relaunch it again now, such is the nature of new ownership!

I was worried you might say that…

I
think September would be the right time for a relaunch. People will
expect me and the new management team to come up with something fresh
and exciting, and I hope that we can do something to snap their eyelids
back a bit.

You aren’t going to sack us all then?

Contrary
to popular myth, I have never liked sacking people, and rarely did it
as an editor if I could possibly avoid it. I believe in letting
everyone have a proper chance to prove themselves. But, obviously, if
we are selling only 500 copies by December, there may have to be a
little chat, Ian.

Do you think journalist readers will mind that a PR is the main shareholder?

They
don’t have to worry on that score. Matthew has no intention of getting
involved in the editorial side; that is my responsibility. I spent more
than a decade telling him to bugger off as an editor, and I definitely
don’t intend to stop doing it now I am a proprietor.

Seriously,
the most important aspect to this purchase is that we maintain Press
Gazette’s most powerful U.S.P – its independence. Tempting though it is
to turn it into an offshoot of Freud Communications and Piers Morgan
Incorporated, that will not be happening.

Matthew will, of
course, be contributing one of the best contacts books in the world,
one of the sharpest minds in modern media, and huge experience and
expertise in the area of events and awards.

How do you intend to improve the magazine’s circulation and profitability?

Well,
by spending more money and being more aggressive commercially, for
starters. That’s why I was so keen to get Roger Eastoe on board. There
is no harder-working or more cunning media business operator than him.

We’ve
also hired Gina Bradbury, who kicked a lot of butt as advertising
director at Mirror Group, and then as managing director of Loot. These
two appointments should send the right signal to the industry that we
mean business commercially.

But, in the end, you have to have a
magazine to sell. And that’s why what we need to do is break great
stories that make the whole British newspaper industry sit up and go:
“Fuck me!” on a weekly basis.

And we must complement those
stories with fantastic features, brilliant surveys, and world-class
mischievous gossip. Which is where you come in.

Do you want to launch other titles or media ventures?

I
want to make a massive and speedy success of Press Gazette first, then
we can think about other opportunities. My brother e-mailed me from
Iraq last week suggesting I secure him an exit from the 48°C joys of
heat, sand and suicide bombers by buying Trout and Salmon monthly, and
installing him as editor. It’s quite a good idea actually, as he’s a
better writer than me.

Will you appear in Press Gazette as much as Robert Maxwell did in the Daily Mirror?

Of course. Next question?

What are the ideal proprietor’s characteristics?

Humility,
patience, inner calm… hmmm, it’s going to be quite a challenge for
me, isn’t it? No, I hope I picked up a few tips from Mr Murdoch about
how a press baron should behave. He was constantly in contact,
endlessly enthusiastic, firm but fair and threw fantastic parties. He
is also, but this is obviously furthest from my mind, now worth about
£4billion and has a lovely private jet to transport him everywhere.

Will the editor continue to have full autonomy?

Don’t
be ridiculous Ian… I am not going to sit here and pretend that I am
going to be the world’s most hands-off proprietor. I want to be
properly involved and as helpful as I can be in all aspects of the
magazine. But, in the end, editors have got to have the final say in
what appears in their publications, and you have my absolute guarantee
that you will.

Until you splash on Morgan’s a Prat and a Tosser, and then I will simply fire you, obviously.

Will PG continue to cover all media sectors, or will national newspapers be the focus?

I
want to broaden Press Gazette’s coverage to include all aspects of
modern media. Newspapers pervade everything – TV, radio, the internet,
advertising, magazines, photography and PR. I’d like PG to become
essential reading for everyone who works in any form of media, while
continuing to focus primarily on newspapers. And I will certainly be
looking to concentrate more on the national papers than anything else
because they remain the Premiership.

When I worked on the
Wimbledon News, I aspired to work on Fleet Street, which is how it
should be for everyone who works in journalism. Having said that, I am
a huge fan of the regional press, there are some fantastic papers out
there. And they will enjoy even more coverage of their affairs than
they do in PG at the moment. But the front-page agenda will be more
Arsenal than Carlisle, that’s for sure.

Who/what do you see as PG’s biggest competitor?

Obviously
there are a lot of media sections around these days, but there is no
truly independent newspaper voice, and that is why PG has such a unique
and powerful place in the industry. I want the media editors of the
Guardian and Independent to wake up every morning sweating that we’ve
scooped them again, and I want to see PG breaking more stories in the
magazine and online than they do.

That’s called healthy
competition. But what I want most of all is for the industry to
recognise PG as a fair, utterly impartial and highly credible magazine
that salutes, rather than sneers at, our great profession.

Will you be asking anyone for advice about running a trade magazine?

Yes,
I already have been. And a lot of people have been in touch to give me
their views unprompted, too, which shows the keenness in the industry
for me and the team to make a great success of this.

When
you were editor of the News of the World you overspent (according to
your book) your budget by £1million. Now you are a proprietor, what
would you do to an editor who did that?

Dock it from his wages,
which in your case could prove rather costly. It’s a very different
ball game when it’s my dough I’m afraid.

At
the Mirror, you told staff it was OK for them not to “turn over” their
mates, after you pulled a story about one of yours. Will the same rule
apply to PG?

Yes, but I was only able to say that because I
personally brought in a lot of other very big stories throughout my
editorship. So you guys can pull as many stories as you like, as long
as you still contribute a lot of other scoops.

I always found
that you got the biggest stories by looking after friends and contacts
on the smaller stuff. Journalists who insist on turning over their
friends are short-sighted fools.

As a millionaire journalist, do you think you can identify with an underpaid hack on a regional paper?

Nope.
And I’m not even going to try. But I do remember working my arse off as
a trainee journalist for £6,000 a year, and it did me no harm at all.
And one of the things I’d like PG to do best is act as a really
proactive influence on young journalists.

How will Press Gazette cover the upcoming trial of the City Slickers?

Fairly
and honestly. Although I think it is fair to say I will be able to
provide some pretty hot background inside information on it all once it
is over.

Will you be playing a direct
role in persuading national editors to take part in the British Press
Awards, given your rather controversial contribution to the event in
the past?

This year’s event followed a familiar pattern – all the
papers that didn’t win much went potty and threatened to pull out. I
used to do the same. We editor types can’t help ourselves, the passion
just boils over when you see a rival paper lauding it on the podium.

I
believe that the awards are essentially fine, though there are probably
a few too many of them, and perhaps there is a tighter way of arranging
the judging process to stop the endless accusations of abuse and
fixing. The awards remain an important and glamorous night in the
journalistic calendar, and I will do everything I can to make them even
better.

But let’s not pretend that everyone’s going to sit there
each year nodding politely when the competitor they have fought so hard
against for 12 months wins the award they have coveted. We are not bank
managers, we are journalists with fire in our bellies. Let’s embrace
that, not frown upon it.

And let’s not encourage a view that
tabloid journalism is somehow less valid than that of the “serious
papers”. That is just snobbery.

Let me make it clear to the
cynics out there that I want Press Gazette to be just as interested in
the “serious-paper” agenda as Planet Tabloid. I’d like Andrew Gowers
and Alan Rusbridger to be as keen to read it each week as Andy Coulson
and Richard Wallace.

And while I’m at it, I’d like them all to
come together for the awards each year and embrace in one big editors’
group hug on stage and sing Love is All You Need.

I assume it’s pay rises all round then?

No, bugger off. I’m not Roman Abramovich.

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