There are no shortage of autobiographies, memoirs and tales from Fleet Street’s pomp, when hacks would gossip the day long and could navigate its countless boozers without getting wet in a rainstorm.
Mostly, they describe a rapidly disappearing world of mass circulations, huge staff rosters and a narrow media culture compared to today. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention – and anyone interested in the trade should spend some time with Harry Evans’s My Paper Chase: Stories of Vanished Times, which I’ve only just got round to reading.
Evans is famous for tenacious, risky investigative campaigning journalism while editor of the Sunday Times in the 1970s. He and his Insight team uncovered the Thalidomide scandal that left children disfigurered at birth, often without limbs, due to the morning sickness drug prescribed to pregnant women, to name just one.
Without going into all that, here’s a passage from the book on how Evans was grilled by the editorial board of Times Newspapers in 1966 before becoming editor. Both Timeses were owned by the Thomson company then, long before Murdoch took over.
The editorial board asked him: “How independent will you be as editor?… What is your attitude to the Thomson commercial interests?…Even if it is news adverse to the Thomson interests, say in travel?” In response Evans said he would print anything, regardless of any embarrassment to the paper’s owners. Evans writes:
The directors spent a full hour examining my halo as someone who would embrace and defend the freedoms defined in the Monopolies Commission report [which required the paper to be editorially independent], not to sell out to Mammon or twist the news for a political agenda.
Looking back at what at the commitments demanded, I can’t help but wonder at how much journalism has changed.
From 1966, to 2010 – where The Sunday Times and its sister title are attempting to re-write the news economics rulebook by charging readers to read previously free content online, which in my opinion is part of a global push across Rupert Murdoch’s media empire to reverse advertising pressures driven in large part by the competitive efficiencies of search engines.
…Cheryl barely reads any press, so she can’t say if she was surprised by that, or the furore over her having hair extensions and yet being the face of L’Oréal Elvive Full Restore 5 Replenishing Shampoo…
…And with that, ever the charming professional, she mentions the lip-gloss colour she’s created for L’Oréal Paris and the limited-edition Elnett hairspray that will have a sketch of her face on the can (the first time in the product’s history). “It’s amazing. I can’t believe it.”
Was the Cole interview granted in return for giving a cosmetics brand several mentions? L’Oréal is an important advertising client for national newspapers and it paid for a full-page ad opposite the ST piece.
I don’t know if the two are linked. But if the paper trade wants to convince the cynical digital generation that its content is worth paying for, it will have to seperate its commercial and editorial interests for good. You can’t sell content that has already been sold.
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