Magazine article The Spectator

Who Will Run the Scott Trust When the Sackings Have to Stop?

Magazine article The Spectator

Who Will Run the Scott Trust When the Sackings Have to Stop?

Article excerpt

National newspaper editors, let alone proprietors, are now more powerful than most Cabinet ministers. What annoys me is that they are not subject to scrutiny. They are loath to criticise or even mention each other, and journalists are too cowardly to carry tales from school unless they can be guaranteed anonymity. So that is where I come in. I have promised my wife Marigold that after I reach the Biblical span in November I will give up writing contentious articles which get me into scrapes, and simply radiate sweetness and light. But in the meantime it is still open season for media big shots. I had intended to say a few words this week about the Evening Standard, or rather about its editor, Max 'Hitler' Hastings, but the shambles at the Observer demands immediate attention, so Hitler will have to wait.

Wise old hands like Vicky, James Cameron and Malcolm Muggeridge always maintained that it was more agreeable, and certainly more lucrative, to work for a tyrannical press baron than for a highminded lefty philanthropist, especially a Quaker. The late Lawrence Cadbury sacked an editor, usually just before Christmas, by sidling up to him in the next stall of the gents and saying, `By the way, I wouldn't bother to come in on Monday. You'll find a small cheque in the post.' When Vicky left the News Chronicle for the King-Cudlipp Mirror, he said, `It's like leaving a lady with syphilis to take up with an honest whore.' But the present-day Guardian, or rather the Scott Trust which owns it and the Observer, leaves the chocolate Quakers well behind when it comes to deviousness, meanness and hypocrisy. The Scott Trust is one of the richest and most secretive institutions in the land, though I suspect some of its arcana will come to light when Jonathan Hunt's sensational book on the Guardian is published next month. In any event it is high time we took a closer look at the Trust's chairman. So, as Beaverbrook used to say, step forward, Hugo John Smelter Young!

I have already noted how unsatisfactory it is that the Scott Trust, instead of being run by some independent liberal outsider, preferably with a good business record and no personal axe to grind, should be chaired by someone who works for the Guardian, where Young has written a dull but muchpraised column for a quarter of a century.

The editor can fire Young, but then Young can fire the editor, or vice versa. No one from the Guardian has ever given an explanation for this anomalous arrangement, which defeats the purpose for which the Trust was set up. Indeed the real reason, I believe, was that Young was cunningly shunted into this supposedly dead-end post by the paper's previous editor, Peter Preston, who regarded him as a threat to his own position. In due course, however, Young skewered Preston, first kicking him upstairs as `editor-in-chief, then sacking him outright.

The Smelter was not of course able to appoint himself in Preston's place. Instead he felt he had to elevate the former gossip columnist, Alan Rusbridger. The latter has collected gongs from left-wing media juries, naturally, but he has done to the paper what Tina Brown did to the poor New Yorker, and got it into a lot of hot water too. So it may be that the Smelter is planning to skewer him, too, presently. On the other hand, Rusbridger might pre-empt this by persuading the supine nonentities who constitute the rank and file of the Scott Trust to oust their chairman. …

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