MEDIA: Why all national newspapers should miss Sir David English

Now that the shock of Sir David English’s sudden death has abated it’s time to look with more detachment at his legacy, and what happens next to Associated Newspapers.

Now that the shock of Sir David English’s sudden death has abated

it’s time to look with more detachment at his legacy, and what happens

next to Associated Newspapers.



English filled three special roles. First, he was editor-in-chief,

instrumental in making key appointments, such as hauling in Max Hastings

from the Telegraph as Evening Standard editor three years ago. This

individual role as talent spotter and ringmaster is vacant, although it

must be within the grasp of the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, now its most

senior editorial figure.



He combines energetic attention to detail with an ability to see the

broader picture.



Much of the Mail’s scorching rise in circulation to nearly 2.3 million

has taken place during the 1990s under Dacre, who benefited from

English’s original formula of the influential ’compact’ (the Mail

refuses to call itself a tabloid) paper, and his benign management,

lavishing resources on journalism. But let’s not forget that English’s

methods, while editor in his heyday, were not to everyone’s taste. He

aimed the paper at women, but was not a modern man. Women as senior

executives had little place in his Mail. He once told an ambitious

female journalist that the best way to rise as a newspaper executive was

to find a rich older husband to back her.



Crucially, English stood aside in 1992 when it was clear that Murdoch

saw Dacre as a potential editor of the Times. It was noticeable last

week that the disciplined Mail editorial treatment of English’s death

carried personal tributes from his inner circle - Lynda Lee-Potter,

Keith Waterhouse and Anne Leslie - all fine writers, but ageing. Dacre’s

executive machine may now feel freer to search out the next generation

of star columnists, while reworking some sections.



Second, English was chairman, reporting to proprietor Lord Rothermere

and spearheaded its mixed bag of initiatives into other media, including

local radio, TV and teletext. This overall was his least successful

venture.



Channel 1, the local cable service, failed to meet expectations and

extends to only 628,000 homes, less than a third of Live TV’s network.

His grand convergence plan to control city-wide evening papers, radio

licences and cable TV stations swiftly ran into competition

barriers.



Third, English in the 1990s filled a crucial role as newspaper industry

diplomat and lobbyist. Only last November I watched him use his personal

authority on the Press Complaints Commission to persuade hostile editors

to accept a toughened Press Code. He also worked to secure the degree of

privacy extended to Princes William and Harry, while heading off

statutory controls. English’s death should force national newspapers to

reconsider who is going to represent their collective interests at the

highest level: without an effective trade body, there is an

English-sized gap.



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