Where was John Morrish's book when I slipped into my first editor's chair almost a decade ago? It would have saved me time and grief.
Slipped is the wrong word. There was nothing timed or effortless about my entrance. I left the crash bang wallop world of newspapers on a Friday as a 'been there, done that' features editor and became the eleventh editor of a national institution on the Monday. No one had prepared me for this.
I could vaguely remember my patter and promises at the interview six months before. I had the leaving party advice of my old editor [Charles Wilson] still ringing in my ears-'Slam a few doors, rip up some layouts and fire someone before eleven.'
I found a broken squash racket in my bottom desk drawer and a piece of research that showed my magazine trailed its principal competitor 19-1 on a list of appreciation questions asked of readers of both titles.
I dabbled with some cover lines, shuffled some copy and mooched about the place like a lost soul, acutely aware that all eyes were on me. You learn loneliness on the first day as editor. John Morrish has clearly been there, too. This book describes the two contradictory impulses of any new editor-the urge 'to make your mark quickly' and the equally natural one 'to freeze'.
For me, and it sounds like for John, too, the thaw began with the chilling realisation that 'most colleagues have a vested interest in leaving things the way they are. They will not, however, be the ones to take the consequences when this course leads to disaster.'
These are relatively modern times in our industry that I'm recalling but it was still a time when our craft was learnt through anecdote and example, instinct and experience. A time when debate still raged as to whether journalism was a trade or a profession. And a time when the majority of the hoary-handed ones in charge believed with all their hearts that journalism couldn't be taught. It probably still is that time.
Whether or not it's a peculiarly British belief I'm not sure, but in the best traditions of amateurism we do still seem to believe that the bright and gifted will swim like fish in any water with the minimum of tuition. For instance, I have no idea why we believe that a teacher who's good in the