By Jean Morgan
The first question journalists asked last week when they heard Neil Wallis had quit the editorship of The People for the deputy’s job at the News of the World was “why”?
Wallis: shocked staff by quitting The People to join rival NoW
“Why does a hard-nosed, solid, national newspaper editor throw up his hands in despair and walk away? No editor gives up being an editor lightly – you usually have to carry him out in a box,” summed up the consensus view, followed swiftly by “What does it say about Trinity Mirror?”
Wallis was keeping a diplomatic silence. He started his new job at the NoW on Tuesday and was mindful that boss Rupert Murdoch does not like his editorial executives speaking out of turn.
But his associates had plenty of ideas. “No resources, no support, no future, no ideas, no prospects. Apart from £2m to launch The SP [the sports supplement produced to fight off the Daily Star Sunday] he has had no marketing budget. The only money he’s had came last year when he raised it by selling jobs.”
Apparently, Wallis was allowed to keep any savings he made on making redundancies at The People for his own marketing budget.
Investment in The SP was the right thing to do but it wasn’t enough,
say senior national newspaper staff. While Trinity Mirror regarded £2m as a vast spend, once the Daily Star Sunday was on the streets, at half price, it became a real problem.
Industry sources estimate Richard Desmond’s embryo Sunday took some 100,000 off The People sale, probably 60,000 to 70,000 off the Sunday Mirror and between 50,000 and 80,000 off the NoW.
“The truth is one of the things that Desmond knows about is marketing. But Trinity Mirror weren’t prepared to put any more into The People,” Press Gazette was told.
“Neil was waiting there almost like a turkey for Christmas. At some point they were going to cut more or they were going to sell his paper off. All he could see was a future death by a thousand cuts; the prospect of the paper being sold off willy-nilly to anybody prepared to pay for it; the prospect of no prospects really.”
A fighter by nature, Wallis edited the paper for five years with a small staff of 60, even when the company made no bones about the fact he wasn’t getting any more money for it.
While he got on well with departing chief executive Philip Graf and Mark Haysom, managing director of national newspapers, he is believed to feel Les Hinton, executive chairman of News International, has a better grasp of how to respond to competition and a belief in the future of national newspapers.
He said “yes” to the deputy’s job when new NoW editor Andy Coulson telephoned him two hours after hearing of his appointment. Wallis was Coulson’s mentor at the The Sun from the time the latter joined the paper at the age of 20 and Wallis was rising through the ranks to deputy editor.
Coulson had not expected him to agree to be his deputy, but is said to be “very chuffed” to get him.
But there was a contrary view from a Trinity Mirror insider. He said: “By any yardstick, the performance of The People, resourced or not resourced, has been frankly appalling. I think it has given everyone a neat way out.
“Everyone liked Neil but, in my view, his paper was far too downmarket. This has been a way out of the problem.”
A new editor for The People is not expected to be announced until after the arrival of new chief executive Sly Bailey on 3 February. No one is yet sure what her intentions are for the newspaper are.
Alan Edwards, 44, deputy editor at The People, has taken the chair until a new editor is found.