Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Fear the Indie Will Yet Again Be Looking for a New Editor in a Year or So's Time

Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Fear the Indie Will Yet Again Be Looking for a New Editor in a Year or So's Time

Article excerpt

I hope readers will forgive me for returning to the amazing saga of the Independent. Since I wrote last week, the paper's Irish owners have appointed Simon Kelner, a chap who has spent much of his life in sports journalism, as its editor. This is the `dream appointment' they were promising us. Mr Kelner has chosen as his deputy a man from the Daily Mail called Ian Birrell. Meanwhile Andrew Marr, recently reinstalled as editor-in-chief, has stomped off after Mr Kelner demanded that he be deprived of his grandiose title.

Now it would be very easy to dismiss the populist Mr Kelner in a single breath. He is a rough diamond who likes long lunches. He does not appear to have graced the inside of an educational establishment since leaving Bury Grammar School. He is round and partly bearded, and dresses like a soap opera actor down on his luck. In short, it would be difficult to find someone who looked less the part of the editor of a national quality newspaper even in these days. This is a man who employed a sports agent to negotiate his new salary, estimated at 250,000 a year, with the Irish Independent group.

Nonetheless, I must confess that part of me warms to Mr Kelner. Whatever he may or may not be, he is not a prig or a pompous fool. He also has virtues which must not be overlooked. We have it on the authority of Sir David English, chairman of Associated Newspapers, from which organisation Mr Kelner is decamping, that he has unusual leadership qualities. He is also said to be very strong on 'presentation' - the art of projecting an article or photograph in such a way as to arrest the attention of readers. According to several accounts, he is a journalist with outstanding technical skills.

Nor is his want of a college education any cause for disquiet. Many of the finest quality newspaper editors of this century did not attend university. J.L. Garvin, editor of the Observer for 34 years and a man of considerable scholarship, taught himself French, German and Spanish, and read up European history. He wrote a three-volume biography of Joseph Chamberlain. The great Manchester Guardian editor Alfred Wadsworth enrolled as a young man in the first tutorial class organised by the Worker's Education Association, and turned himself into a formidable economic historian. Sir William Haley, director-general of the BBC and editor of the Times from 1952 until 1966, was also largely self-taught as a young man. These men were masters of their trade, and also men of learning.

I would not necessarily go so far as the editor of this magazine (another autodidact) who believes that a university education is often a disadvantage in a broadsheet newspaper journalist, but it is clear that the lack of one need not be an impediment. An editor of a quality newspaper has no requirement to attend a university but he must nevertheless have a university education - or better. I can't say whether Mr Kelner falls into this category, and has quietly been boning up on his European history while sitting on the sports desk, but he is described even by his friends and supporters as someone without strong political beliefs, let alone a `world view'.

Tony O'Reilly, chairman of the Irish Independent group, has recently said that the Independent's future lies at the top of the market - the territory once occupied, and now vacated, by the Times. …

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