Twelve months ago I speculated how the media landscape might change during 2002. Looking back, I find that I was spectacularly correct with my first forecast: Osama bin Laden will still be on the on the run, I wrote. I wrote it about January, actually, so there may be those who sneer, but on the run he still is almost a whole year later.
Admittedly, some of my other predictions were less accurate. For example, News of the World editor Rebekah Wade was not cast in the second Harry Potter film, and Alastair Campbell did not leave Downing Street to take up playing bagpipes made from copies of The Scotsman. Mind you, there’s still time.
This soothsaying business is trickier than it looks. Had I predicted the year would begin with the NoW busting a 17-year-old prince of the realm for drink and drugs indiscretions, and end with the royals in total disarray because of what several butlers saw, I would have been accused of distasteful fantasising. If I had suggested that Piers Morgan would deploy staff to attempt to wreck a book-signing session by Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, I would doubtless have received a smack across the knuckles from the six-inch ruler Morgan keeps in his pencil case.
I admit that I did not foresee the row over Express boss Richard Desmond’s £100,000 gift to the Labour Party, nor Rod Liddle’s departure from the editorship of Today after writing an overtly political column in The Guardian.
And I would never even have dreamed that Daily Mirror editor Morgan would suppress the story of romantically entwined Sky political editor Adam Boulton and Anji Hunter, formerly an aide to the Prime Minister, because he drank in the same boozer as Anji. Piers even told his staff it was OK not to rat on friends and neighbours if they were caught in an illicit dalliance. Lucky John Major and Edwina Currie hadn’t enjoyed pre-coital cocktails in the Crown at Newick, is all I can say.
Still, one or two blind spots and the odd distorted image in the crystal ball have not deterred me from attempting to get 2003 into sharp focus. Here’s the coming year, through a glass, darkly.
JANUARY: Osama bin Laden still at large (may as well ride my luck). Richard Desmond denies distribution problems could sink launch of his proposed Evening Standard rival, the London Evening Mail -editorial staff will be required to hand out the paper at tube stations on their way home. Associated Newspapers retaliate to threat by buying the London Underground and appointing Mail editor Paul Dacre as staff supervisor.
FEBRUARY: Underground trains run on time for first time in years. With a shock announcement, the Guardian sacks readers’ editor Ian Mayes. Following morning’s Corrections & Clarifications column apologises – "sacks" should have read "backs". Max Clifford retires to become an evangelist.
MARCH: Media Celebrity Big Brother announced: Lord Birt, Janet Street-Porter, Jeremy Clarkson, Kelvin MacKenzie, Julie Burchill and Homer Simpson to be the housemates. Rumours resurface that Ofcom will censor the press. Rupert Murdoch attacks communications bill for requiring "accurate presentation of news" – shelves plans to launch Fox News in Europe. Sun exclusive – Richard Desmond makes gift of lifetime subscription to magazine featuring Greek stunnas, Cor! Phew!, to the Duke of Edinburgh.
APRIL: First Big Brother viewers’ poll results in Birt, Street-Porter, Clarkson, MacKenzie and Burchill being evicted from house en masse. On news that Piers Morgan is to guest on The Simpsons, Homer elects to remain permanently in the Big Brother house. Rumours sweep industry that Oxfam will be press censor.
MAY: Desmond announces he has solved distribution problem of London Evening Mail – the title will be produced as a paper aeroplane that will be delivered to passers-by from hovering helicopters. Associated Newspapers to relaunch Evening News as a paper jet fighter.
JUNE: A slighted Morgan promises a "shock expose" on Homer Simpson and dispatches a team to Mo’s bar in Springfield to parade with placards reading "Doh! Must Go". Rumours abound that Oxo will be press censor.
JULY: In effort to reverse plunging popularity, beleaguered Royal Family agrees to appear in Celebrity Royal Big Brother. Daily Star, Express, Mirror, Sun and Racing Post all claim to be the "official Big Brother paper". National newspaper price war continues – Max Hastings seen wearing combat gear in Kensington.
AUGUST: Launch of London Evening Mail, printed on paper towels and distributed through public conveniences throughout the capital. On eve of first issue, Associated Newspapers deploy saboteurs to plug WC locks with chewing gum. Desmond announces imminent launch of The Male on Sunday, featuring raunchy pictures of macho Associated staff.
SEPTEMBER: Celebrity Royal Big Brother attracts no viewers, being beaten in ratings by I Used to be a Celebrity – Get Me Back in There, featuring former Big Brother winners. Mayes "resgins" from Guardian. Liddle replaces him as readers’ editor and following morning apologises – "resgins" should have read "resnigs".
OCTOBER: Daily Mirror’s "shock expose" on Homer Simpson published at last – front page wipeout proclaims HOMER SIMPSON BALD! Cherie Blair buys the Taj Mahal as investment for Leo -Mail and the Telegraph call for resignation of Alastair Campbell, the entire Cabinet, and Desmond. Royal Family announces retirement from public life – Tina Brown and Harry Evans seen driving back and forth outside Buck Palace in a removal van.
NOVEMBER: Andrew Marr to present new series of Have I Got News For You? by live link from outside Downing Street, while simultaneously writing a newspaper column, recording Start the Week and rehearsing for pantomime debut in Skegness. Boris Johnson writes vitriolic column in The Spectator accusing Marr of having too many jobs.
DECEMBER: Festive season truce sees presents exchanged by Lord Rothermere and Desmond, Morgan and The Sun’s David Yelland, and Michael Winner and readers with sensibilities. Each receives a set of ornamental flying pigs to hang on the wall. Andrew Neil does nothing to warrant a mention throughout the year, but I know he would be desperately disappointed if he was left out of this almanac. So, happy Christmas Andrew.
And the same to all of you in this season of goodwill.
Bill Hagerty is editor of the British Journalism Review